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Back to Bavaria

After spending five weeks exploring the Balkan countries (including two weeks sailing in Croatia), I flew to Munich on Monday, October 1, where I reunited with German friends to hike the Alps and revel in the festivities at Oktoberfest (locally known as “Wiesn”).   

This particular group of German friends has scheduled a “boys’ weekend” hiking trip every year for decades.  Only for the last 10 years or so have my friend Adam and I joined the group regularly.  It’s one of the highlights of my year.

This year, the Bavarian adventure began at the “usual meeting place” – the back corner of the Weinzelt (wine tent) within the Oktoberfest fairgrounds.  It took me about two hours to get there from the airport, including customs, baggage retrieval, two trains, and a short walk… plus some covert operations to store my bag outside the fairgrounds.

After passing through the fairground gates, where security seems to increase every year, I weaved my way through the crowd and found my way to the Weinzelt.  As expected, my Bavarian friend Uli and American friend Adam (who had arrived a day earlier) were waiting for me as I walked in around 8:30pm. Unexpectedly, another friend Isi also showed up. Our three friends from Northern Germany would arrive in Munich in a few days. 

We enjoyed a beer together, but since I was designated driver (and they had been there all day), we called it an early night.  On the way to the car, we played a few of the carnival games testing our arm with the softball throw and our aim with the pellet gun. I drove us home in Uli’s car, enjoying both the stretch of speed-limit-less autobahn between Munich and Berg, and our pitstop for doner kebabs at a local hole-in-the-wall. 

After a good night’s rest, on Tuesday Uli and I headed back to the fairgrounds at 1:30pm per the “Rules of Wiesn”, while Adam stayed home to work. 

Wait.  What are the “Rules of Wiesn”?

Well, over the years, we have developed a set of guidelines, or “Rules,” for enjoying, and surviving, Oktoberfest. 

Some are for fun, like “Don’t buy stuff,” “Don’t pour old beer into new beer,” and “Don’t act like an American.”

But some are serious, like “Save 60 Euro for the taxi ride home” and “Eat.” 

Somewhere in between fun and serious is the rule, “We start at 1:30pm.” 

Why 1:30pm?  The timing usually coincides with the ferry or bus schedule from Uli’s suburban home, and gets us to Wiesn by 3:00pm.  The morning table reservations in the tents are usually done by the time we arrive at 3:00pm; and the evening table reservations start at 5:00pm.  Arriving at 3:00pm enables us to visit our favorite tent Hacker-Pschorr (where a friend works) and eat before we get booted for the upcoming reservations.  

On this particular day, we followed the plan and enjoyed a hendl (1/2 chicken) and a beer at Hacker-Pschorr.   As the reservation time came, we left, and headed to the bar at the Weinzelt.  We met some interesting people, including a couple of tourists from Australia and UK wearing hilariously cheap lederhosen and dirndl – a clear violation of the Wiesn rules.

On Wednesday, we laid low and helped Uli with a few projects around the house.  We also reorganized our bags into smaller overnight backpacks that we would bring with us on our Thursday-to-Sunday hiking trip in the Alps.

As he does every year, Uli planned everything perfectly for this 4-day adventure: transportation, hotel, and hiking route.

On Thursday, Uli, Adam, and I took a bus and then train to Ostbahnhof station. There, as we transferred to another train, we rendezvoused with our friends Ulf, Olaf, and Bernd, who had flown in from Hamburg that morning.  Then all 6 of us boarded another train toward Salzburg, Austria.  Just before the final stop, we disembarked and changed trains, heading to Berchtesgaden.  And then, finally, in Berchtesgaden, we took a taxi to our hotel.  The transfers and rendezvous worked smoothly, again thanks to Uli’s skilled orchestration.

In Berchtesgaden, after checking in to Hotel Boehm, we headed out to dinner in the village.  We enjoyed tasty Schwienshaxe (a roasted pork dish) and then played cards as the heavy meal settled in our stomachs. Our game of choice is “Schwimmen.”

The next day, after a hearty breakfast at the hotel, we grabbed our packs and trekking poles, and walked into the village.  At the far end of the village was the lake Konigssee.  We took a boat across the lake to the trailhead at St. Bartholoma.  Today’s hike was a steep climb up to the Karlingerhaus hut where we spent the night.  It was about 10km distance and 1,200m climb. 

The Karlingerhaus hut was a pretty amazing place, tucked away in a glacial valley with a small lake out front and huge mountains all around.  After welcoming beers on the balcony, we endured very cold showers.  But a hot meal of lentil stew warmed us back up.  We played cards for a while before climbing into our bunks (four to a room) later that evening, well-fed and very tired.

The next day, we met for breakfast in the hut, then embarked on a different route back down to lake Konigssee, which turned out to be a bit longer (15km).  Halfway down, we stopped at another hut, Wasseralm, for a hot vegetable and lentil soup and alcohol-free weissbier. The second half of the hike included a very steep descent (labeled “expert” on the trail map) where we had to use cables (similar to Half Dome, Yosemite, USA) for safety.  But the view was incredible!

We made it down safely, with the last couple of kilometers consisting of a gentle stroll along the valley floor, along lake Obersee, and back to lake Konigssee.  We took the boat across Konigssee, and wandered back down to our hotel in Berchtesgaden (after stopping at a beer garden for another celebratory beer).  We were all very tired, but after showers, we made it back out to the village for another good meal.

On Sunday, we made the journey back to Munich.  Once again, this was coordinated and executed perfectly by Uli.  Another three trains and two buses this time, all with transfers timed to single-digit minutes.  (Including one transfer where maybe we cut it a little close!)

Back at Uli’s house, we cleaned up quickly, donning our best Wiesn attire (for Americans that meant checkered shirts and jeans; for Germans, that meant the full shebang of lederhosen, checkered shirt, vest or sweater, traditional Bavarian shoes and socks).  The taxi came at 2:00pm and we headed to Wiesen.  This was the final day of Wiesn 2018, so we expected quite a crowd.

Fortunately, Uli had made a reservation for us at the Wildstubel tent.  Starting at this smaller tent is somewhat of a tradition for us.  We sit at a U-shaped table that is great for socializing, and welcoming additional guests. In this instance our friends Daniela, Fred, Chris, and Verena also joined us. We had an afternoon of laughs and stories, complemented of course by German folk music in the background, big plates of Schweinebraten in front of us, and cheerful “Prosts” every few minutes.

We were all feeling a bit sore from the hiking, but, as the Rules say, “After the first mass, everything is better.”  As the evening came, we relocated to the Weinzelt for a final round.  Or maybe two rounds.  Then we piled into a taxi for the ride home.

On Monday morning, Ulf, Olaf, and Bernd headed back to northern Germany.  Adam and I stayed at Uli’s until Wednesday, again helping him around the house.  You can imagine we had to do a little cleaning after Uli’s gracious hosting of five guys! 

For our last supper Tuesday night, we enjoyed traditional cuisine of Schauferl and Kaiserschmarrn at the Oskar Maria Graf Stuberl.  On Wednesday morning, Adam and I bid thanks and farewell to Uli, and made the journey home to San Francisco. 

It was going to be a quick turnaround for me. 

Back in the Bay Area, I had six days before my next adventure began.  So, I had to hustle and bustle around town, doing errands and changing gear.  I didn’t get a chance to see many friends unfortunately.   

On October 18, I headed back to SFO with my backpack and sail bag…. Headed to the South Pacific!  Stay tuned!

 Ready to go!

Ready to go!

 The view from Karlingerhaus hut where we spent the night.

The view from Karlingerhaus hut where we spent the night.

 Steep descent back into the valley, looking at Obersee and Konigssee lakes in the distance.

Steep descent back into the valley, looking at Obersee and Konigssee lakes in the distance.

 Obersee and Konigssee lakes.

Obersee and Konigssee lakes.

 Cleaned up and ready for Wiesn (Oktoberfest)!

Cleaned up and ready for Wiesn (Oktoberfest)!

 A few friends joined us for dinner at Wildstubel.

A few friends joined us for dinner at Wildstubel.

 Zoomed-out view of our two-day hike in the Bavarian Alps.

Zoomed-out view of our two-day hike in the Bavarian Alps.

 Detail of the elevation gain and length of hike.

Detail of the elevation gain and length of hike.

 One of the toughest parts. A long series of steep switchbacks. Pig’s tail, I think it’s called.

One of the toughest parts. A long series of steep switchbacks. Pig’s tail, I think it’s called.

DBT Hike Stats.png

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Sailing Croatia 2018 (Week 2)

Hunkered down at the ACI Marina in Slano, we awaited Bora to blow our way.  The forecast called for the notoriously strong northeasterly wind to begin gusting at 2:00pm on Monday afternoon.

The forecast was spot on.   At 2:10pm, Bora arrived. 

I had been enjoying a coffee on the patio at the restaurant in the marina when the server started scrambling to collect the seat cushions and table settings around 1:45pm.  He cautioned me, “You’ll probably want to move inside.” 

“Bora coming?” I asked.

“Yes.”

And literally a few minutes later, the wind increased from 5 knots to 40 knots in the blink of an eye, accompanied by a heavy downpour of rain.

To be fair, dark clouds had been forming all morning.  But that doesn’t necessarily indicate Bora.  Sometimes Bora comes with little or no warning – a clear-air gale, it’s called.  Other times, Bora does bring dark clouds and rain, like today. 

The scene in the marina was intense – some of the most wild wind and rain I’ve ever seen.  I finished my coffee (after moving inside) and then walked down the dock to check on the boat.  Everything seemed to be ok.

For the rest of the day, the skipper of buddy boat “Melanie” and I stayed close to our boats.  Meanwhile, our respective crews went exploring to the nearby town of Ston (known for its wall, its salt factory, and its fresh oysters).  We reviewed the forecast again, and made the easy decision to stay put for another day.  

During the late afternoon, I turned on the boat instruments and captured wind-speed readings of 55 knots!  Fortunately, our boats were tied such that the wind was coming from astern, and blowing us away from the dock, not into the dock!  Our doubled-up dock lines worked just fine.

Sleeping was difficult Monday night, as the wind howled through the marina.  The boat swayed back and forth a bit, but the rock seawall gave us good protection from the choppy waves stirred up by the wind.  

On Tuesday, the gusty wind continued to blow.  Since we didn’t know exactly when we would sail down to Dubrovnik – or how much time we would have there – some of the crew opted to take a bus down to Dubrovnik for the day.  (Although our primary reason for choosing Slano was for the protection it offered, a secondary reason was the accessibility to transportation and services in case we were stuck for multiple days.)

Since I had spent time in Dubrovnik during my 2016 sailing trip in Croatia, I decided to take a hike around the hills surrounding Slano Bay.  Heading south out of town, I walked nervously along a narrow, no-shoulder highway for about a mile.  I managed to find a dirt road that led up into the hills, so I happily followed it away from the highway.  The road led to a small village.  I took a short break in church and cemetery, and then headed back to Slano on a different road … after asking for directions twice! 

After returning to the marina, I met with Melanie’s skipper again to review the weather outlook.  The forecast for Wednesday showed sustained wind of 15-20 knots, but gusts still forecast to be 30-35 knots.  We were only 20 nautical miles from Dubrovnik, but there was no reason to force it.  We didn’t have to be there until Friday.   And the forecast showed much better (i.e., lighter) wind conditions for Thursday and Friday.

I gave the crew the unfortunate news, but they supported the decision to stay put – recognizing it was for our safety.  “Better to be at the dock wishing you were at sea, than being at sea wishing you were at the dock,” as the saying goes.

On Wednesday, two more boats from the OCSC flotilla pulled into Slano.  They had waited out the Bora in Okuklje, a small village on the island of Mljet.  They were well protected from the wind as well; but, as is typical in these villages, they moored at a restaurant-owned mooring spot.  This was great for eating, but the restaurant didn’t offer services like showers and water.  After spending three nights at the mooring and running low on fresh water, both vessels braved the gusts and waves to cross the channel to join us in Slano. 

It was great to see them, and had a good afternoon exchanging stories about the trip thus far.

That evening, Melanie’s skipper and I had yet another forecast review.  We confirmed our plan to depart Thursday morning.  But where to go?

There were a couple of possible anchorages where we could stop for 1 night.  However, my crew in particular had expressed a preference to avoid anchoring, in favor of docking at shore, in order to maximize ability to explore without being dinghy-dependent. 

Thus, Melanie’s skipper and I decided we would sail together directly to Dubrovnik on Thursday.  Arriving a day early would allow people to have a “free” day to do exploring on their own – perhaps even taking a ferry to the National Park on the island of Mljet.  (Recall, we had to scratch Mljet from our sailing itinerary due to the wind conditions.)  Once again, I relayed the decision to my supportive crew.

Thursday morning arrived, and we made prepared the boat for departure – mainly undoing all of the extra lines we’d used to tie things down during Bora.  The wind was light as we slowly motored out of the marina, with buddy boat Melanie following us.  We hoisted the sails, turned to port, and headed south.  We cut the engine and tried to sail a bit, but now the wind was too light!  Such a difference a day makes!

Although our plan had been to stay in the protected channel all the way down to Dubrovnik, the wind was so light (and we had a lot of time), we decided to venture out beyond the first row of islands off the coast, and look for wind in the open Adriatic Sea.

It worked!  And we found perfect wind as we poked out beyond the islands.  We enjoyed an hour of fun sailing, rotating crew around different positions so everyone had a chance to tack the boat a few times and work the jib sheets.

Once we’d had our fill, we continued down south to Old Town Dubrovnik.  We lowered our sails and motored along the city wall, and just in front of the small harbor.   The small harbor was too busy with water taxis and tour boats for us to enter.  We circled in front of Old Town for a few minutes, taking selfies, and then turned around and motored up an inlet just north of Dubrovnik to the Sunsail Marina.

We found our mooring spot right at the marina entrance.  We executed our final Mediterranean-mooring maneuver, and secured Tilly II safely at the dock.  Melanie came in right behind us, and docked alongside.  We opened a few beers and toasted the end of our journey, albeit a day early.

On Friday, the crew set off to explore Old Town Dubrovnik again, while Melanie’s skipper and I relaxed in the cockpit of Melanie and watched all the other charter boats come in.   It was non-stop “Boat TV” all day long.  Boats lined up to enter the marina.  Weary crews lined up to use the showers.  I reflected on the benefit of being one of the first boats in.  There was no line for docking; there was no line for showering.

That evening, back on Tilly II, we packed up our belongings, cleaned up the boat, and got a good night of rest.  We were off the boat at 8:00am the next morning.  I took the bus into Old Town Dubrovnik, where I would spend two days recuperating before heading to Germany for my next adventure.

Overall, the OCSC flotilla was a fantastic trip, with a great group of people.  While the Bora wind caused us to deviate from our sail plan, and even cut our sailing short by a day or two, I learned a lot from the experience, and thank my fellow skippers (especially Melanie’s skipper) and the crew of Tilly II.

 Flying the OCSC burgee.

Flying the OCSC burgee.

 Showing off my “skipper socks” as we make way to Slano.

Showing off my “skipper socks” as we make way to Slano.

 Doubling up the dock lines in advance of Bora’s arrival.

Doubling up the dock lines in advance of Bora’s arrival.

 Nervously awaiting my first Bora…

Nervously awaiting my first Bora…

 White caps in the small Slano Bay as wind hits 50 knots.

White caps in the small Slano Bay as wind hits 50 knots.

 Ok 55 knots!

Ok 55 knots!

 View of Slano Bay (marina is just left of center). Beautiful!

View of Slano Bay (marina is just left of center). Beautiful!

 Checking the latest wind forecast on Predictwind.com

Checking the latest wind forecast on Predictwind.com

 After waiting 3 days for Bora to subside, we eventually made it to Dubrovnik!

After waiting 3 days for Bora to subside, we eventually made it to Dubrovnik!

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Sailing Croatia 2018 (Week 1)

The adventure began at the Sunsail Agana Marina in the town of Marina, just up the coast from more well-known Split, on Saturday, September 15. About 50 members, employees, and friends of OCSC Sailing gathered in front of the Sunsail office anxious to move onto the chartered sailboats.

We would be 9 boats in total. While the skippers had shared tentative sail plans, we didn’t necessarily plan to follow each other throughout the two weeks, but rather rendezvous periodically at the popular ports.

After checking in with passports and paperwork, the skippers and first mates attended a weather and cruising briefing, while their crews ventured off to do last-minute provisioning.

By late afternoon, we headed to our individual boats for a review of systems, operation, and inventory by a Sunsail representative.

I had chartered a 47-foot monohull – named “Tilly II” – with 4 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms. My crew consisted of two couples and one single gentleman, so we were six in total. The couples took the aft two cabins which were a bit more spacious. The two single guys took the two forward cabins which, by nature of the hull shape, were more narrow. The arrangement worked out great, with plenty of room on the boat.

Other than needing a quick top-off of oil, the boat was good to go, with well-labeled running rigging, straightforward systems, and complete inventory of safety items. The Sunsail representative stepped off, and the boat was ours.

We stowed our gear and provisions, and then sat down for a safety briefing before dinner. The crew patiently endured my review of basic boat safety, daily routine, sail plan, docking techniques, roles and responsibilities, etc. Finally, we adjourned and headed off to a crew dinner.

Unfortunately, dinner was somewhat of a disaster. We went with the “fish special” which included a 1.5 hour wait for our food, a bill that was nearly double what normal entrees would have cost, and a smirking waiter that seems to know exactly what he was doing. The fish, although presented in a big cast iron pan drowning in potatoes, onions, and broth, wasn’t even that good.

After dinner, we retired to our cabins for an early night. We had a big two-week adventure ahead of us!

The next morning (Sunday), we completed final boat preparation and departed smoothly at 9:30am, headed for Milna on the island of Brac. It was roughly 19 nautical miles in sunny, but light wind, conditions. We motored slowly out of the marina and down the Splitski Kanal, getting used to the boat and waking up our sea legs. We hoisted the main sail for good measure, in hopes the wind would materialize.

We did catch a bit of a breeze as we sailed across the gap between the islands of Solta and Brac, which opens southwest to the Adriatic Sea. We hoisted the jib and sailed for about 45 minutes. But as we approached the western edge of Brac, the wind died and we fired up the engine again.

We cruised up the protected channel into the harbor of Milna, where we executed our first stern-to Mediterranean-mooring maneuver at the ACI Marina. It felt good to get one under our belts. We secured and tidied the boat, and then passed cold beers around!

We spent the afternoon exploring the small town of Milna, and then had a fabulous pizza dinner at Slika Pizzeria. The attentive service and affordable menu more than made up for our previous night’s disastrous dinner. We headed back to the boat early again, perhaps all relieved our first “break-in” day was over.

On Monday morning, we departed Milna at 9:30am, and headed 17 nautical miles southwest across the Hvarksi Kanal to Starigrad on the island of Hvar. We docked at the town quay about 12:30pm. One of the other boats in the flotilla, “Melanie,” was planning to follow a similar two-week route as our boat. We quickly became “buddy boats” with Melanie, sharing ideas about weather, routing, activities, etc. not to mention regular radio check-ins for safety and happy hours for socializing.

As we pulled into Starigrad, I radioed Melanie advising on how to find us and that I had asked the dock attendant to save a spot for her. About 30 minutes later, Melanie was moored alongside us. We would spend two nights here.

On Monday evening, our first night in town, we relaxed with a happy hour on the boats. Some of the crew had done an afternoon bike ride (thanks to our early arrival) so they were especially thirsty.

On Tuesday, since we weren’t moving the boat, I took a hike through the vineyards of the 2,000-year-old Starigrad Plain. Then I walked up into the hills, passing by a few small villages, old churches, and ruins. Then back down to the Starigrad Plain and town center. Meanwhile, the crew had taken a bus to the famed Hvar Town. I had a quiet dinner on my own that night at Odisej Restaurant to continue route-planning, weather-forecasting, and journaling. At this point, the weather outlook seemed perfectly pleasant for the next several days - sunshine and light wind. (I was using PredictWind primarily, supplemented by the local forecast from the Croatian site www.meteo.hr)

From Starigrad, we set sail at 8:45am on Wednesday, heading east along the north side of Hvar, and then southwest across the Viski Kanal to the island of Vis – about a 5-hour, 25-nautical-mile transit. We cruised into the bay of Vis Town with Melanie right behind us, and we both docked at the town quay. Soon, a third boat from our flotilla also joined us - an added bonus for socializing.

Our plan was to stay here for two nights, which would allow the crew to disembark and explore the island, known for its military history as well as its vineyards.

From my visit here in 2016, I remembered a very good restaurant called Kod Paveta so I organized a 3-boat dinner at the same restaurant this year for our first night in town. I was greeted by the same great staff (who remembered me!), the same great food, and the same great ambiance.

The next day, Thursday, was a non-sailing day. People split up and pursued a variety of activities. I hiked up the eastern side of the bay and followed the ridge around the bay clockwise, finding panoramic views, old churches, and a few ruins. Seeking a bit of solitude to get some “skipper work” done, I dined at Kod Paveta again. As with each evening, I reviewed the upcoming weather, studied the charts for possible routes and hazards, and wrote some notes about our journey thus far.

As sometimes happens with sailing, changes in the weather forecast can dictate a change to our intended sail plan in order to keep the vessel and crew safe. Occasionally that means the skipper has to make tough calls. And in this case, that’s exactly what happened.

Because we are on a two-week passage (vs. a day sail), we don’t just review the forecast for tomorrow, we review the forecast for the next 3-5 days. (In fact, PredictWind provides a 7-day outlook.) At this point in our trip, the multi-day outlook was showing something concerning: by early next week, as early as Monday, a strong northeasterly wind was expected, and expected to last for a couple of days. This strong wind, locally known as Bora, can blow at gale force (35-55 mph) or higher.

After my solo dinner at Kod Paveta, I met with the skipper of Melanie to exchange thoughts on the forecast and discuss options. Although we were on vacation and wanted to continue our island tour, our primary objective was to get our boats and ourselves safely to Dubrovnik. We reviewed the forecast again and studied the chart, measuring distances and evaluating potential safe harbors.

Our original plan had been to sail from Vis Town to Korcula Town, stopping at the island of Scedero for an overnight to break up the 45 nautical mile trip into two shorter trips. The looming threat of Bora made us question this plan.

Korcula Town (on the island of Korcula) was still nearly 50 nautical miles from our final destination of Dubrovnik. The strong wind expected to begin on Monday and last 2 or 3 days. But what if it lasted a bit longer? The boat was due back in Dubrovnik on Friday, and we did not want to be in the position of being “forced” to sail down to Dubrovnik in unsafe conditions just to meet the deadline.

We wanted to get east, closer to our final destination, while the conditions were safe. We had 3 days (Friday, Saturday, Sunday). We didn’t want to sail on Monday in case the strong Bora wind arrived early. We wanted to be docked somewhere safe by Sunday midday, a full 24 hours before the big gusts. This would give us time to secure the boat - much easier to do in calm wind than in 30 knots of wind. In addition, we knew marinas and moorings would fill up as the storm approached; by getting somewhere early, we’d have a better chance at getting a spot, or finding an alternative if our first choice was full.

All of this led us to the decision to sail straight from Vis Town to Korcula Town on Friday, and not “waste” a day doing an overnight on Scedero. From Korcula Town, we would continue to monitor the forecast and plan our route for Saturday and Sunday.

So, early Friday morning (at 6:15am), we departed from Vis Town and made our way eastward along the Korculanski Kanal. As we approached the channel between Korcula Island and the Poluotok Peljesac, the wind picked up significantly. We hauled our sails in close, and tried to work our way upwind through the narrow channel. The wind was close to the nose, so to help us point, I kept the motor on as well, at a low RPM. We tacked our way through the narrow 6 nautical miles or so, with the walls of Korcula Town drawing nearer, and our buddy boat Melanie following our every tack. As we sailed abeam of the town, we lowered our sails and motored into the marina just to the east of Old Town about 2:30pm. Melanie followed us in.

That evening, we enjoyed another group dinner. We dined at Konoba Aurora, on the waterfront.

On Saturday, another rest day (in terms of not moving the boat), I once again embarked on a long hike. This time I hiked through the rolling foothills behind the town. Others pursued a variety of activities: a military-themed tour, wine-tasting, and boat ride to the Blue Cave on a nearby island.

That evening, my buddy skipper and I reviewed the forecast again to make plans for Sunday. The Bora wind was still predicted for Monday, reaching gale force (35-50 knots) by Monday 2:00pm.

Again, we decided the most prudent action would be to continue east, to seek the shelter and safety of the mainland, skipping the island of Mljet. (Our original plan had included 2 days on Mljet.)

We wanted to get shelter by midday Sunday. The possibility of Bora coming a bit earlier was a risk we didn’t want to take. The mainland offered a safe ACI Marina in Slano Bay, with lots of amenities and excursion options (in case we were stuck there for multiple days).

So, on Sunday morning we departed and headed to Slano. It was another long transit of 35 nautical miles. We departed at 7:30am, and arrived at 1:30pm and docked inside the ACI Marina. It was a little disappointing to sail by Mljet without stopping. We’d had a good time exploring on that island in 2016.

We spent Sunday afternoon tidying and securing the boats in Slano, including: doubling up the stern lines, zipping the main sail stack-pack (or, in Melanie’s case, wrapping it with a spare line since her stack-pack didn’t have a zipper), securing the main halyard so it wouldn’t whip against the mast, cinching closed the forward and aft ends of the stack-pack to prevent reefing line slack from coming out, removing cockpit cushions and stowing below, making sure fenders and dinghy were appropriately placed and secured. We watched other boats arriving later that afternoon and evening, with spaces filling up. Our “arrive early” strategy paid off.

With the boats secure, we had a nice dinner Sunday night at Kolarin Restaurant and waited for Bora to come on Monday….

 Our home for the next 2 weeks: a 47-foot sailboat named “Tilly II” with 4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, and lots of space for the 6 of us. And WIFI!

Our home for the next 2 weeks: a 47-foot sailboat named “Tilly II” with 4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, and lots of space for the 6 of us. And WIFI!

 Off to a good start, docked at Milna on the island of Brac.

Off to a good start, docked at Milna on the island of Brac.

 We visited Starigrad on the island of Hvar. I had a great hike through the vineyards.

We visited Starigrad on the island of Hvar. I had a great hike through the vineyards.

 Wandering around the narrow streets of Starigrad, Hvar.

Wandering around the narrow streets of Starigrad, Hvar.

 Obligatory cat photo.

Obligatory cat photo.

 From Hvar, we sailed down to the island of Vis, and docked at the town quay in Vis Town. I had a great hike in the hills above the bay.

From Hvar, we sailed down to the island of Vis, and docked at the town quay in Vis Town. I had a great hike in the hills above the bay.

 We woke up early and departed at sunrise to make the 45-mile transit from Vis to Korcula.

We woke up early and departed at sunrise to make the 45-mile transit from Vis to Korcula.

 We docked at the ACI Marina in Korcula Town, on the island of Korcula.

We docked at the ACI Marina in Korcula Town, on the island of Korcula.

 Visited the home of a famous Korcula town resident.

Visited the home of a famous Korcula town resident.

 After Korcula, we headed to Slano on the mainland, seeking protection from the gale-force wind locally known as Bora.

After Korcula, we headed to Slano on the mainland, seeking protection from the gale-force wind locally known as Bora.

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From Bus to Boat

After three weeks of traveling around the Balkan countries by bus, I’m now making the transition to sailboat. For the next two weeks, I’ll be sailing down the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia, from Split to Dubrovnik. I’m skippering a 47-foot monohull with 4 cabins and 4 heads (i.e., 4 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms).

This transition gives me the perfect opportunity to talk a bit about the pros and cons of bus travel, and to offer some tips. I have done a lot of travel by bus, mostly in South America and Europe. While I don’t proclaim to be an expert, I do have a LOT of experience to draw from.

At some point in the near future, when I have good WIFI and time on my hands, I’m going to create a “Travel Tips” section of my website - that’s where a lot of the information below will reside. For now, though, it’s just part of my journal.

As you can probably guess, these days, a sailboat is my preferred vehicle for getting from Point A to Point B. But, if I have to travel over land in a foreign country, going by bus is a pretty good alternative in my opinion.

The biggest advantage of bus travel is the cost: it is CHEAP! At some point I’ll add up the cost-per-mile of my Balkan country tour and publish it. The minimal cost will astound you.

Cost aside, I’m sure you probably think that buses are slow, crowded, and uncomfortable, right?

Well, sure, they can be. But some of these issues can be avoided or minimized, and some can be turned into a positive. Let me explain.

SLOW. Yes, bus travel is slow, but for me that’s part of the enjoyment. Going slow exposes the traveler to a bit more of the local flavor. In most countries, people don’t fly - they take the bus or train. (A lot of the countries I’ve visited just haven’t developed good train systems yet. But I do love trains, maybe more than buses!)

One reason buses are slow is they stop frequently. But look at the bright side — this means your routing can be VERY flexible! You can go from almost anywhere to, well, almost anywhere else!

Buses, because they are slow, give you a chance to catch up on sleeping, managing photos, planning the next leg of your trip, writing in your journal, etc. Just make sure your electronics are fully charged! Even if the bus advertises “AC outlets” and/or “Free WIFI,” there is no guarantee either will work. (This recently happened to me in Serbia. The bus had outlets that didn’t work - and to make matters worse I had forgotten to charge my electronics fully.)

Side note: Some hotels turn off the power to plugs if you don’t leave the room keycard in the slot by the door. So, while you’re at dinner (with the keycard) your electronics aren’t charging. Solution: Ask for a second keycard!

CROWDED. Sometimes buses are crowded. But I try to avoid this by doing a lot of travel in the off-season or edge of the season. Definitely don’t travel at peak. If buses are crowded with locals, use the situation as an opportunity to observe daily life. Who are these people? Where are they going? What are their lives like? If they are tourists, maybe you can strike up a conversation about travel tips, funny stories, hot spots, etc.

UNCOMFORTABLE (PART 1). This is often due to user error. You know it’s going to be a bit uncomfortable, no matter what, so plan accordingly.

Dress comfortably. Just because the bus says “Air-Conditioning” doesn’t guarantee it will be working. Wear loose-fitting clothing; dress in layers.

Use the bathroom before you depart! Like everything else, just because there is a toilet on board (maybe), you can’t assume it works. I was on a bus where the toilet was out of order, and it was a 5 hour bus ride!

Now, on long hauls, the bus will usually stop for 10-20 minutes at a truck stop or restaurant, so people can use the toilet, get some food, smoke a cigarette, etc. BUT, be careful about the definition of long haul. I was recently on a trip from Belgrade to Sarajevo. We left at 4:00pm, and had a toilet break at 5:30pm. Then, we drove straight through until 11:00pm without a break! There was a toilet on board but it didn’t appear to be working… at least no one used it.

Bring a few snacks to nibble on, too, especially if it’s a long haul. Again, there is no guarantee if, when, or where they are going to stop - or what’s offered at the stop.

I always bring a bottle of water with me, despite the aforementioned toilet challenges. I usually bring some kind of cheap ham and cheese sandwich. My latest trick is to bring nuts (I like cashews and almonds). The nuts are healthy, and packed with calories and protein to keep my energy level high.

So stay hydrated, eat something, and just be careful about the toilet use.

UNCOMFORTABLE, PART 2. Certainly, in some cases, the discomfort is not your fault. There may be some inherent “equipment issue” that makes the bus uncomfortable. Specifically, seating. So let’s talk about seating.

Usually the ticket comes with a seat assignment printed on the ticket. But in my experience, most people ignore this assignment. Get on board and grab a seat you like, whether it’s an aisle or a window, at the front or at the back.

Then check all aspects of your seat.

Is it stable? Once I was on a bus and my seat was because one side of the brackets had come unbolted.

Does it recline? I’ve been on buses where seats don’t recline, or where they stay reclined! (Trust me, staying reclined sounds good, but after 2-3 hours you may want to sit upright.)

Does your self belt work? It may not. Better to have and not need, than need and not have.

Other things to check (but probably bus-wide issues) include: Does your air-conditioning vent work? Do the plug, USB port, headphone jack, overhead light, etc. work?

Now, there are some strategic decisions you can make while choosing your seat.

Check your route - which side of the bus will offer the best view? Which side will be in the sun vs. the shade? Trust me, suns sounds good for about the first 30 minutes, then it’s annoying. If you are on the sunny side, make sure the curtain works. (Again, recently I sat in a seat where the curtain was missing a few rings, so it continually draped down into my face. ) If you plan on taking pictures or watching the scenery, choose a window seat that has a full window view, not next to a support pillar.

Which side of the bus was your luggage stored on? (If I don’t care about the view or sun, I usually try to site on the side where my luggage was stored: that way I can keep an eye on whether someone takes it out.) More often than not, luggage goes in on the right hand side of the the bus (the curb side). Thus, everything else equal, I like to sit on the right hand side of the bus, so that I can watch people take luggage out of that compartment.

If nothing else, sitting on the right (in drive-on-the-right countries) enables you to keep a close eye on street signs that indicate distances to towns, street names, etc. This will help you figure out where the heck you are.

In general, I find that most people prefer to sit forward. So, for me, I like to sit toward the back of the bus. I like my space, and I can keep an eye on things since the bulk of the bus and passengers are forward of me. In addition, I feel safer the back in the event of a head-on collision.

So yes, buses can be slow, crowded, and uncomfortable. But you can minimize some of these unpleasantries and, if nothing else, you can stay positive and look on the bright side. Let’s talk a bit more about preparatory and precautionary steps, in advance of your bus trip.

SAFETY. We all read about (and want to avoid) crazy bus crashes in foreign countries. Unlike an airline, there is no safety briefing on a bus, so I usually do my own. I mentioned the seat belt. I make sure I have one, though admittedly I usually only wear it on curvy mountain roads, rainy weather, and overnight trips. Or if the driver is just driving erratically or aggressively. I also look for the emergency window breaker, fire extinguisher, and exit door / window. If these aren’t in plain view, I don’t necessarily go out of my way to find them - but I just look around to see what’s in my immediate area for use in case of emergency.

KNOW WHERE YOU ARE. Understand that your destination may not be the bus’ final destination. So, make sure you know when and where your stop is, and then get off, alerting the driver that you need your bag from the storage compartment below. Recently, I almost missed my stop because I was politely waiting for people to get off, but waited too long and people started to get on the bus! (A lot of times, the engine is still running - people just get off, get on, and off we go. So you have to be quick!)

Some drivers are very helpful, and will respond if you ask ahead of time about stops along the way (for bathrooms or food) or about your stop in particular.

I’ve recently started using a navigation app (Navionics, designed for sailing) to help me identify where I am as the bus blasts down the highway. This works for long inter-city or cross-country hauls, not for intra-city transit.)

I try to preload my phone or computer with a map of my next destination. I like to book my room ahead of time too, so I’ll usually try to map the route from the bus station to my hotel and save it as a screenshot. Usually. Sometimes I forget to do this, or don’t do it in enough detail, as was the case recently in Sarajevo. And remember, make sure your electronics are charged!

THEFT. Your backpack or suitcase, generally speaking, is fine stored below in the luggage compartment. I don’t know if it’s a scam or not, but the driver or assistant will frequently charged you $1-$3 USD equivalent for the storage. Don’t argue. Just pay it. You don’t want to anger the man who is safeguarding your goods. Make sure you confirm your final destination with him, though. That may influence where he puts your bag.

While your bag will (probably) be fine down there in the storage compartment, don’t be a complete travel noobie. Take out anything you don’t want to lose and put it in the daypack you carry on board the bus with you. For me this means: passport, wallet (cash/credit cards), any extra cash (I always carry several hundred USD), phone, computer, camera, external hard drive (for backups), and charging cables.

I’ve not had anything stolen from me on a bus…yet. But my friend’s backpack was stolen once on an overnight train in Italy or Austria somewhere. So it does happen! (See comments in Seating section above about how to keep an eye on the luggage.)

After hours, days, and weeks of bus travel in my 25-year history of international travel, I still find bus travel one of the most fun ways to get around…. IF you take the necessary steps of preparation and precaution, if you make some good (lucky) seat choices, and if you have the time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the unique cultural experience.

Notice I said “one of the most fun ways.” I’m just about the embark on THE most fun way: sailing!

Stay tuned as I sail down the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia!

 My bus in Slovenia sure had some ‘fun’ decor! And what a scenic ride!

My bus in Slovenia sure had some ‘fun’ decor! And what a scenic ride!

 This was my route, starting and ending in Split, going in a clockwise direction.  I covered 1,920 kilometers (about 1,200 miles) in 3 weeks of bus travel.  Total bus fares came to about $250.  So averaged about $0.20 per mile.

This was my route, starting and ending in Split, going in a clockwise direction. I covered 1,920 kilometers (about 1,200 miles) in 3 weeks of bus travel. Total bus fares came to about $250. So averaged about $0.20 per mile.










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Border Crossing...Drama?

Since my last update, I spent five pleasantly uneventful days in Belgrade, Serbia, highlighted by some fantastic meals, interesting museums, and multiple sidewalk cafes. It was great to settle into an apartment (One Luxury Suites - highly recommended!) for a few days, do some laundry, and reorganize my bags.

As Sunday, September 9, arrived, I decided to begin my journey back west toward Croatia. I would continue the clockwise circle I was making through parts of former Yugoslavia. From Belgrade, I would swing down to Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and then on to Mostar.

Well, let’s get to Sarajevo first. It was going to be a 7-hour bus ride, with the bus leaving Belgrade at 4pm and arriving in Sarajevo around 11pm. Given the late evening arrival, I made sure to book a hotel ahead of time. I wasn’t quite as diligent as I should have been on directions to the hotel… more on that later.

I bid farewell to the apartment manager in Belgrade, and headed to the main bus terminal. I had purchased my ticket ahead of time, since now I was on a bit of a schedule to get all the way back to Croatia before the sailboat charter starts.

To my delight, the bus was not crowded. I took an empty row in the 3rd row from the back, with no one behind me. I sat back, ready to enjoy to journey.

Within minutes of leaving the bus station, I noticed a silver Mercedes Benz speeding alongside our bus, with the car’s driver honking, waving, pointing, and yelling - apparently trying to get the bus driver to pull over. “Was something wrong with our bus?” I thought.

We pulled over to the shoulder and the bus driver got out to talk with the frantic Mercedes Benz driver. Soon, four gentlemen emerged from the sedan, flashed some passports and papers to the bus driver, debated a bit, and then boarded our bus. Were they just running late?

The four of them took the two rows behind me, each taking one of the four window seats. They didn’t want to talk to each other? They just wanted to enjoy the view?

They stored three small day-packs in the upper luggage bins over our heads. Three small backpacks for four people? Going to a destination 7-hours away? Even if it was just an overnight trip, man, that is packing light!

Things were pretty quiet for the next 2-3 hours. The late-arrivers sat quietly, maybe one or two even dozed off. Or maybe I did.

Pause here. Let me explain border crossings on a bus.

Border crossings on a bus are interesting and usually happen one of two ways. Sometimes, everyone gets off the bus with passports in hand and files through a passport control station (like at an airport). Then the bus pulls forward through the gate and everyone re-boards the bus. Other times, a passport control officer comes on board the bus, collects passports, and takes them back to the office where all the documents are scanned. Then the officer comes back onto the bus and returns the passports to their rightful owners.

Whichever way it is, it happens TWICE for each border crossing. Once for the departure country, and once for the arrival country.

For the crossing from Serbia to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the passport control officer boarded the bus and collected the passports. We all sat patiently, and he came back as usual a few minutes later, but not will all the passports… with only three passports. He walked down the aisle, straight to the back of the bus, and asked three of the four late-arrivers to step off the bus with their backpacks.

The fourth member of the group was an older gentleman, maybe the young men’s father; I don’t know but he just sat quietly as his companions exited the bus and went into the border patrol building.

We waited, and waited. I presume the young men were being questioned and perhaps searched. Twenty minutes passed. Thirty minutes passed. As we waited, the older man behind me received a phone call on his mobile. In a hushed voice, he spoke Serbian or Bosnian (?) to whomever was on the other end.

Obviously, I couldn’t understand, but my imagination went wild.

“Did you make it? Are you in the clear?”

“We are at the border now. They boys got called off the bus. We’ll see."

“Ok. Good luck.”

Finally, after about forty-five minutes, the young men emerged from the building, arms crossed, heads down, looking very serious. For a moment, I thought, “They got caught. They aren’t getting back on.”

But they did get back on! As they walked down the aisle toward the back rows, their serious faces turned to sly smirks. Maybe I was imagining things, but I swear it looked like they had just fooled someone.

As they sat down, they weren’t quiet anymore. They were very chatty amongst themselves and with the older gentleman. I presume they were exchanging stories of what went on in the border patrol building.

Minutes later, the older man’s phone rang again.

“Clear?”

“Yep, we made it.”

“Good, proceed to the rendezvous point.”

I’m sure the truth of the situation was perfectly harmless. Well, pretty sure. But it made for an interesting bus ride.

The adventure didn’t stop there, though. Because of the delay, we didn’t arrive in Sarajevo until nearly midnight. I had about 2km to walk to my hotel, in the dark, in a foreign city, with only a high level screenshot of a map. Even if the screenshot had street names, it probably wouldn’t have mattered because street signs in this part of the world are the exception, not the rule.

Yes, I could have flagged down a taxi, but that’s just too easy. The high-level map indicated the hotel was southeast from my location. I tightened up my laces, adjusted my backpack straps, and set off into the night…

 These guys flagged down our bus from a speeding Mercedes Benz, and came aboard. Then they managed to cross the border. It’s probably all legit, but for a while I had my doubts…

These guys flagged down our bus from a speeding Mercedes Benz, and came aboard. Then they managed to cross the border. It’s probably all legit, but for a while I had my doubts…





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Three Days, Three Hikes

Ljubljana, Slovenia is a fantastic little town.  I could sit for days at any one of the riverside cafes or parks and just watch life go by.  But I also took some mini-adventures -- 3 hikes in 3 days -- that I thought I would write about, in case the details help others plan their trip to Ljubljana.  

I took two trips to nearby lakes in the Julian Alps for some (semi-) serious hiking, and I spent one full day on an "urban hike" around the city.  Here are the details:

The first trip was a day trip to Lake Bled, only about an hour away by bus.  I caught a bus from the main station at 9:30am, and was on the trail at Lake Bled by 11:00am.  

Starting from the town of Bled on the east end of the lake, I circumnavigated the lake clockwise.  

The south side of the lake offered great views of both the castle sitting majestically on the cliff across the lake, and of the church sitting quietly on a small island in the lake.  

At the west end of the lake, I took a detour and headed up a dirt trail to Mala Osojnica, which offers some classic views overlooking the lake, castle, and church.  It's a steep but short trail, and not exactly well-marked, so be careful.  

After having lunch at the viewpoint, I descended and continued my trek around the lake.   Along the north side, I took another detour and made the ascent to the Bled Castle.  While the castle itself was not that interesting (it's been pretty "commercialized"), the views are outstanding.  I didn't eat at the restaurant there, but I can imagine it would be a nice place to relax with a glass of wine or a meal. 

By the late afternoon, I was back in the town of Bled.  I considered staying for a rewarding cold beer and snack at one of the lakeside cafes, but I was a bit worried about a rush of tourists all trying to catch the later buses back to Ljubljana.  So I opted to catch one of the earlier buses, one leaving at 4:00pm.  

The next day, I stayed in Ljubljana and took a long walk around town, visiting sites that people had recommended or that I had read about.  

From my hotel, I headed northwest to Tivoli Park and wandered around the many paths there.  It was a weekday, so most of the people in the park were bustling along by bike or foot on their daily commute, perhaps using the park as a shortcut across town.

Next, I headed back down to the river and followed it southeast, to a neat canal which veered off to the west.  I walked up the canal a few hundred yards, but then continued back along the river, along a section that locals call "the beach."  The river bank here has a series of stone steps, like stadium seating, shaded by drooping willow trees.  I could just imagine the scene on a warm summer weekend day:  the steps lined with sun bathers and picnickers, locals and tourists.  Today, though, again because it was mid-week, the steps were pretty vacant.

I crossed over the river on a footbridge, and headed up a hill at the southeast part of town.  I was hoping for a good view, but didn't find one.  Just a lot of good hiking trails weaving through the woods.  

I then headed back toward the center, walking through what once was the vineyard of the Ljubljana Castle.  I passed alongside the castle, and down into the city center again.  

Crossing another bridge, I headed up to Metelkova, which is a small district known to be very artsy, free-spirited, and alternative.  Buildings are heavily decorated with graffiti and ornaments of all sorts.  One building is supposedly an old jail that has been turned into a hostel (so you actually sleep in a jail cell).  At night, the district is supposed to come to life.  But once again, today at 3:00pm, it was pretty desolate other than a few people sitting around on the balconies or porches, who looked like they were recovering from the previous evening.  I took a few pictures, even though I'd read about tourists being told, "No pictures, we are not a zoo."  I got a little of that vibe, so I walked up and down the street, and then moved on.

I headed back to the main square and enjoyed the late afternoon sun with a coffee at a sidewalk (and riverside) cafe.  

The third day, I packed my bag, said farewell to Ljubljana, and took an early morning 2-hour bus ride to Lake Bohinj in Triglav National Park.  My plan was to circumnavigate this lake (about 11km), and also make the ascent to the famous Slap Savica waterfall. 

I checked into Hotel Jezero in the lakeside village of Ribcev Laz located at the east end of the lake. I hit the trail at 10:30am.  At the advice of the hotel clerk, I started counter-clockwise around the lake. 

The path along the north side of the lake was a relatively flat dirt trail about 20 feet up from the waterline, so it was easy enough to sneak down to the water for a photo, rest, or even refreshing dip.

When I reached the west end of the lake, near the village of Ukanc, I followed the signs to Slap Savica waterfall, eventually (an hour?) reaching the ticket office.  Yes, you have to buy a 3 euro ticket to enter the waterfall area.  Ticket in hand, I began the climb, which is up 500 steps to the viewing hut.  

When I got to the top, I checked my watch.  It was 1:00pm.  So it took me 2.5 hours from the hotel in Ribcev Laz to the waterfall.  (In case anyone is planning a trip.)

To be completely honest, I was a bit disappointed by the waterfall.  The waterfall itself is not that tall.  (This is coming from someone who has been to Yosemite many times, and who has seen Niagara Falls as well.  This is not that.)   Also, the viewing area is pretty far away and pretty small, so people have to take turns getting into the best selfie position.  That said, the pool of water at the bottom is a very pretty greenish blue color, making for good pictures.  And the simple location of the waterfall - tucked way back in this crease in the mountain - is pretty interesting.

After having lunch at the viewing area, I made my descent back down to the lake.  I continued with my circumnavigation, following the path around now to the south side of the lake.  This section was less interesting because the walking path is actually further away from the shoreline.  In fact, in some places, the road is actually between the shoreline and the walking path - so your view is ruined by cars and buses zipping by.   

There are some sections where you can leave the walking path and just meander along the water line on a sort of unofficial trail.  But in other places, you have to go back up to the walking path because of rocks or trees blocking the shoreline.

I completed the entire circumnavigation plus the waterfall in about 6 hours, including stops for eating lunch, taking photos, and wading in the lake.  So, while it would be possible to do this as a day trip from Ljubljana, I was glad my hotel was at the end of the trail.  In fact, I had a very nice sparkling water, beer, and mixed grill dinner at Pod Skarco next door.

It was a great three days of hiking in different areas.  My time in Slovenia was coming to an end though.  The next morning I packed up, and took the bus back to Ljubljana, transferred buses, and headed back into Croatia - to the capital, Zagreb.

 Lake Bled.

Lake Bled.

 The view of the castle and church, from the south side of Lake Bled.

The view of the castle and church, from the south side of Lake Bled.

 The view from Mala Osojnica.

The view from Mala Osojnica.

 The view from Bled Castle.

The view from Bled Castle.

 My walking route around the city of Ljubljana, Slovenia.

My walking route around the city of Ljubljana, Slovenia.

 Taking a break along "the beach" in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Taking a break along "the beach" in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

 The artsy, alternative area known as Metelkova (in Ljubljana, Slovenia).

The artsy, alternative area known as Metelkova (in Ljubljana, Slovenia).

 Lake Bohinj and surrounding area in Triglav National Park, Slovenia.

Lake Bohinj and surrounding area in Triglav National Park, Slovenia.

 Ready to hike 11+ km around the lake and up to the waterfall!

Ready to hike 11+ km around the lake and up to the waterfall!

 The water in Lake Bohinj is so clear!

The water in Lake Bohinj is so clear!

 Slap Savica waterfall.

Slap Savica waterfall.

 One more of the waterfall, with me in the picture this time. :-)

One more of the waterfall, with me in the picture this time. :-)

 Wading in the refreshingly cool water of Lake Bohinj after a long day of hiking.

Wading in the refreshingly cool water of Lake Bohinj after a long day of hiking.

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A Day in the Life...

A recent string of events led me to write this post, and to share a glimpse into "a day in the life" of Dannyboy Travels.  

I had arrived in Croatia on Thursday, August 23.  I immediately made my way to Trogir, via taxi from the airport in Split.  I returned to Palace Central Square apartments, where I had stayed for several nights in 2016.  The family operators are very friendly, welcoming, and accommodating.  

I stayed one night, and then left my sail bag with the family so that I could explore Croatia and surrounding countries for three weeks with a lighter load.  Before heading into new territory though, I decided to revisit a couple of familiar towns, Split and Zadar.

I started off by taking the ferry down the Split for the weekend, spending time walking on the beach, strolling the promenade, and lounging in the cafes.  I stayed for two nights, in two different accommodations due to limited high-season availability.   But the rooms were very nice. 

All good so far.  

Then, on Sunday, I headed to Zadar.  And that's when the mini-adventure began.  

I didn't book a bus ticket ahead of time; I knew there were frequent buses going to Zadar.  I just showed up at the main bus station in Split.  It was 10:44am.  As luck would have it, there was a bus leaving at 10:45am!  Without hesitation, I purchased the ticket, handed the driver my bag, and boarded the bus.  

Well, as it turns out, this bus was taking a local route.  So the two-hour trip actually took three hours.  I didn't mind much, though.  It's a nice coastal drive, and I enjoyed watching the locals go about their daily lives hopping on/off the bus.   (Lesson 1:  Always check both the departure *and* arrival time of your bus!)

We arrived in Zadar just after 2:00pm.  Casually gazing at the street scene from my window seat, I patiently waited for people to exit the bus... including the woman sitting in the aisle seat next to me.  But she never stood up.  In fact, people were now starting to get *on* the bus!  I suddenly realized that Zadar was not the final destination - but it was my destination!  I had to get off!  I jumped up, nearly crawled over the woman, and stepped off the bus.  She was very nice though.  In broken English she asked if I was sure this was my stop.  I smiled and said yes, "Zadar."  She smiled back.  I then had to interrupt the driver from loading bags to actually unloading a few bags so we could dig out my backpack!  Whew.  (Lesson 2:  Know your stop.)

After my mad dash off the bus, I then began the leisurely and familiar 20-minute walk to the center of town.  Once there, I grabbed a table at Cafe Forum and sipped a coffee while using their spotty WIFI to look for a hotel room.  Very unlike me, I hadn't booked ahead of time.  Online, and in between lost network connections, I found a room for a great price just a block from where I was sitting. 

As I was about to press "Book," I reviewed the details once more.  And good thing I did!  The reservation was for the wrong day!  I guess because it was close to 3:00pm, the app I was using defaulted my room search for the following day.  I canceled out and started my search over.

The previous room wasn't available, but I found a new room equally priced and similarly located.  I booked it, after double-checking the day.  (Lesson 3:  Double-check online purchases.)

After paying for coffee, I headed to check in.  The establishment had good signage, so it was easy to find.  But there was no front desk.  It was literally an apartment unit.  I had to wait for the manager to text or email me with check-in instructions.  The challenge was I had no WIFI or cell service.  (Lesson 4:  Book ahead, especially if it's an "apartment" with no front desk in which case you have to arrange meeting the manager.)

So back to the Cafe Forum I went, for another coffee and more WIFI.  At this point, it started to rain, so the massive outdoor seating area at the cafe closed, and everyone rushed inside.  No seating for me and my big backpack.  I stood outside, skipped the coffee, and focused on sorting out my room.

I texted the manager.  No answer.  

After a few minutes, I decided to call Hotels.com to see if they could help.  I logged into my Skype account and made a free WIFI call.  Free, because I pay $13/month for unlimited/anywhere Skype calling - a new service I'm trying.  As this call turned out to be 24 minutes long (mostly being on hold), maybe it's worth it.  

Hotels.com was not helpful at first.  The representative couldn't reach the manager either, and so then she instructed me to book another room elsewhere while she canceled my existing reservation ... but that I would still have to pay for the canceled room!  WHAT?  That made no sense to me.  I told her not to cancel, and that I would figure something out.  (I wasn't going to win any economic battle on a spotty WIFI phone call.  I'd deal with this back in the U.S.)

I hung up, and started to look for another room as a Plan B.  But, wait, an email popped up!  It was from the manager saying he'd meet me in 15 minutes.  Awesome.  I headed back to the apartment.  (To be fair to Hotels.com, they also were able to eventually reach the manager.  But their suggestion that I pay for two rooms for one night was ridiculous and unreasonable.)

I stood right outside the gate, with my backpack at my feet, trying (for once) to look as "touristy" as possible because, without cell service, I would be unreachable by text, phone, or email.  We would just have to find each other visually.  I figured he couldn't miss me.  (Lesson 5:  Maybe it's time to invest in a local sim card / MyFi device.)

About 15 minutes later, I noticed a gentleman walk right be me and stand about 30 feet away.  He had his cell phone in his hand, and appeared to be waiting or looking for someone.  Was this the manager?  Why wouldn't he stand at the gate to the apartment complex, too?  

Finally, about 5 minutes later, he came back to me and said, "Are you Dan?"  

Well, yes, of course I am.

Now, as it turns out, the apartment was very nice.  Super clean, very spacious, and well located. Suddenly, all the hassle of getting to this point in the day faded away.  (Lesson 6:  Things tend to work themselves out over time.)

I realize a lot of the hassle was actually my own fault (for not booking ahead, not paying attention, etc.)  But if everything was planned out and perfectly executed, I'd have nothing to write about. These hiccups, as long as they aren't major ones (and these were all very minor in the scheme of things), help make travel interesting and fun ...  And maybe that's Lesson 7.

 Listening to the Sea Organ in Zadar, Croatia.

Listening to the Sea Organ in Zadar, Croatia.

 Diocletian's Palace in Split, Croatia.

Diocletian's Palace in Split, Croatia.

 At the Forum in Zadar, Croatia.

At the Forum in Zadar, Croatia.

 After a long travel day, I can finally relax in my apartment in Zadar, Croatia.

After a long travel day, I can finally relax in my apartment in Zadar, Croatia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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DBT Mode: ON

After spending 5 months in one place - working as a Sailing Instructor in the San Francisco Bay Area - I'm pressing the ON button for DBT Mode.  

For the next 6 months, I'll be homeless again, living out of a backpack and facing the uncertainty, the challenge, and the reward that comes with that choice.  

I leave tomorrow for Croatia, where I'll spend 6 weeks exploring by bus and by boat.  Since I spent a lot of time in Croatia in 2016, this time I'll probably venture into neighboring countries of Slovenia, Serbia, and Bosnia for the first four weeks.  Then I'll return to Croatia, pick up a sailboat, and sail with friends (and 8 other boats!) down the coast of Croatia, from Split to Dubrovnik.  

After sailing in Croatia, I'll fly to Germany for a week of trekking the Alps with good friends, capped by an evening or two at Oktoberfest.  What started nearly 20 years ago as a fun vacation has now become an almost-annual ritual.  It's one of the highlights of every year.  

Beyond that, I don't really have a plan that I'm ready to announce just yet.  

 A good traveler (and good skipper) always carries a journal.

A good traveler (and good skipper) always carries a journal.

 My storage unit is locked, but I am free to roam the world!

My storage unit is locked, but I am free to roam the world!

 

 

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Back to Corporate Life?

Last week, I found myself surrounded by whiteboards, colored markers, box lunches, and conference tables.  What?  Had the last three years of sailing, volunteering, and traveling just been a dream?  

Hmm.  Despite the very corporate-looking setting, through the windows I see the blue San Francisco Bay, the glistening city skyline, and the Golden Gate Bridge.  And I'm sitting here in my big rubber boots, salt-crusted overalls, and "OCSC Sailing Club Instructor" shirt.

Phew.  No, I'm not back in the rat race after all.  I'm just helping the OCSC Sailing Club host a 4-day team-building event for a corporate client.

And the event was awesome!

On this occasion, the OCSC Sailing Club hosted a group of 20 managers from the worldwide offices of a multinational company.  We divided the group into 4 teams on 4 boats.  On Day 1, we gave the teams basic instructions on hoisting the sails and sailing the boat (dockside only).  On Day 2, we set out on a practice sail and let the participants rotate through positions to develop their boat handling skills.  On Days 3 and 4, we set them loose on a designated race course!  Each newbie sailing team had to work together to sail their boat through the course, competing with the other 3 boats for the best time!  (Yes, there was a professional skipper on board for safety reasons, and for minimal coaching as needed.)  

In the end, it wasn't about winning.  It was about teamwork, problem-solving, communication, leadership, trust, and camaraderie -- skills that are critical for a team to be successful, whether navigating the wild, windy, and wavy San Francisco Bay or navigating the complex, dynamic business world.

Based on the smiles, laughter, and comments during and after the course, I think it was a huge success!  Great job everyone!

If you'd like to put your team to the test, check out our program here:

http://ocscsailing.com/teambuilding/team-challenge

 Darkened the photo to protect the innocent, but trust me, the group was all smiles during this team-building event on the SF Bay.

Darkened the photo to protect the innocent, but trust me, the group was all smiles during this team-building event on the SF Bay.

 

 

 

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"You Do What?"

As the month of May drifts away, I record another 15 days of sea time in my logbook, slowly sailing my way to the required 360 days for a U.S. Coast Guard Captain's License.  I hope to reach the lofty goal by the end of the calendar year.

Most of my “sea time” these days is acquired by teaching Basic Keelboat (BK) and Basic Cruising (BC) courses at the OCSC Sailing Club in Berkeley, CA.  So I thought I’d write a bit about the club and job I love so much.

The primary objective of these courses is to train students to sail (BK) and skipper (BC) keelboats less than 30 feet in length.

We use the sturdy, agile, and popular J24 sailing vessel for training.  These boats are 24 feet long and 9 feet wide, with a 4-foot draft. They weigh 3,100 pounds, with about 900 of those pounds found in the keel.  They aren’t going to tip over, but they will heel significantly if you don’t manage the size and shape of the two sails. They are a ton of fun, with the tiller giving the helmsperson a real sense of the boat’s behavior.

The BK and BC courses each consist of 4 days of 7-hour classes on weekends, with most students requiring additional “reviews” to hone their on-the-water skills before satisfying the U.S. Sailing (and OCSC) certification standards.   We usually sail with 3 students and 1 instructor onboard.

Many (if not the majority) of our students have never stepped foot on a sailboat before. They may come to us to find a new weekend hobby, to learn something new with their partner, or to realize a life-long dream.  Some students have plans to skipper day sails on the Bay; some students want to charter boats in exotic locations for family vacations; and some students want to eventually sail around the world! Whatever their dreams are, they start at OCSC; they start with me.   And that is very motivating and exciting for me.

Students come from near and far, drawn by the school’s excellent reputation.  (This past weekend, for example, I taught a gentleman who came all the way from Alaska just to take the week-long version of our Basic Cruising course.)

Students come from all walks of life with respect to age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, economic background, prior sailing experience, etc. which reflects positively on the school’s 40-year-old mission:  to make sailing accessible to anyone who is interested! We want to erase the image that sailing (and skippering) is for the rich, white, and male. It’s for anyone.

The OCSC Sailing School is known for its rigor, with a relentless focus on safety, fun, and learning.  We train in some of the toughest inland waters in the country, facing high wind, heavy traffic, and quick currents (not to mention confusing fog).  It’s the perfect recipe to build confidence in our students! I like to think that if you can sail on San Francisco Bay, you can pretty much sail anywhere.

Although I sailed a bit with family and friends over the years, my own formal sailing training came from OCSC in 2013, when I enrolled in same courses that I am now teaching!  It is a thrill for me to be in this position, working with students as they discover the joys (and challenges) of sailing, and as I discover the joy (and challenges) of teaching!

 A fellow J24 sailing vessel out on the Bay.

A fellow J24 sailing vessel out on the Bay.

 Demonstrating heaving-to, and taking a quick break for photos.

Demonstrating heaving-to, and taking a quick break for photos.

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Three Years, One Question

As April 2018 fades away, so does the three-year anniversary of my decision to chart a new course by pursuing a life of traveling, sailing, and volunteering, and leaving a successful career in corporate finance behind.

It was April 15, 2015, when I walked out of my office in downtown San Francisco. 

Although I had done some personal financial analysis and made a to-do list, I didn’t have an exact plan when I turned off my computer and handed in my badge.  As I took the elevator to the ground floor, I wondered whether the five-floor descent was a symbolic representation of what I was doing with my life – returning to the ground floor, giving up everything I’d worked so hard for during the last 15 years.  

I’ve come to realize the *actual* symbol appeared when those elevator doors opened:  I had the whole world in front of me and, more importantly, I was free to explore it.  No PTO to record.  No emails to answer.  No deadlines to worry about.  

It’s been three extraordinary years, punctuated by high points and low points, proud moments and doubtful moments. 

I’ve traveled deep not wide, spending more time in fewer countries rather than less time in more countries.  My trips are measured in months, not days or weeks.  I’ve lived with local families, helping them with their daily lives and giving back to the community I’m visiting.  

I’ve sailed across oceans and advanced my sailing certifications.  I now get paid to teach sailing, which makes me smile every time I think about it.  Soon, with a Captain’s license in hand, I might expand this “side hustle” to include skippering vacation charters or crewing on yacht deliveries.

Many people have said, “Dan, you’re living the dream.”  That’s not entirely accurate.  I am living a dream.  My dream.  

But, to be clear, it’s not all sunshine and roses; there are nightmarish moments in my dream.  I’ve been assaulted and robbed.  I’ve slept in some run-down hotels, met some oddball Airbnb hosts, and survived some crazy taxi (and tuk-tuk) rides.  I’ve been lost many times; lonely a few times.  I’ve faced “first world problems” of sacrificing expensive activities like sports events, concerts, and City dinners that'd I'd grown accustomed to attending without a second thought.  (I now meticulously track every dollar I spend - more on that in a subsequent post.)

What began as a trial period of 6-12 months has now become a way of life for me.  I don’t plan on going back to an office environment, or the long hours, politics, and stress that inevitably come with it.  I certainly miss the routine, the paycheck, and the social and intellectual aspects of the office, but I'm slowly figuring out alternative sources for these comforts.  

I may not have everything figured out, but who does anyway?  

 

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One Day at a Time

In February, I posted a general outline of my plan for 2018.  A couple of months have quietly and quickly passed by.  I guess it’s time I provide an update!

The short version is, I’m on track.

In March, I completed the USCG Master 100-Ton License course at Columbia Pacific Maritime in Portland, Oregon.  The course spanned 10 consecutive days and included several written exams covering Navigation, General Deck, Rules of the Road, and Safety.  I also took two auxiliary exams to earn my Sailing endorsement and Towing endorsement.  The CPM school and its instructors were fabulous and come with my highest recommendation!

Now that I have passed the exams, the last major obstacle between me and the USCG Master License is time on the water, or “sea service.”  I need 360 days.  I’m at 280. 

So, I flew home to San Francisco in mid-March with one thing in mind:  sailing as much as possible this summer.  Not a bad to-do list, right?

Working with the OCSC Sailing School, I’ve expanded my scope as Sailing Instructor (I’m now qualified to teach both Basic Keelboat and Basic Cruising courses) enabling me to load up my schedule – teaching about four days a week.  I’ve already accumulated over 20 days since mid-March.  If I can teach about 15 days a month, I should be easily to reach 360 total days by the end of summer.

In September, I’m committed to skippering the 13-day sailing vacation in Croatia – so that will be the icing on the cake.  I’ll come back in the Fall and file my paperwork with the U.S. Coast Guard.

So, the plan remains as I outlined in February.  I’m slowly making progress against it, one day at a time, one sail at a time. 

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So... What's Next?

A lot of people have asked me "What's next?"  I will share the answer in this post; but before I do, let's take a quick trip down memory lane.  It will help set the stage for what's next.

I started sailing seriously about 5 years ago, in the Spring of 2013.  I quickly fell in love with the sport and dreamed about building a career in sailing – as a sailing instructor, charter skipper, or yacht deliverer.  Or a combination of all three.

By the Spring of 2015, I assessed my professional, personal, and financial situation and decided to focus on making my dream a reality.  To the surprise of friends, family, and colleagues, I quit my  job in corporate finance and charted a new course for my life.  I built a financial plan and figured out a way to minimize my expenses and maximize my experiences, focusing on what makes me happy:  sailing, volunteering, and traveling.

At a macro level, my schedule revolved around sailing in San Francisco during the summer (when wind and weather is favorable) and volunteering in foreign countries in the winter (especially countries in the tropics or Southern Hemisphere).  Season to season, my cost of living and my daily routine swing wildly from one extreme to the other; but on an annualized basis, the lifestyle has proven to be manageable and affordable.

The volunteering and traveling is strictly for fun; I don’t have any master plan other than to explore cultures and help communities.  Sailing, however, is a different story.  I do a plan, or at least the dream, of making a career out of it.  So, I’ve been structured and disciplined in my efforts. 

Over the last several years, I’ve taken multiple courses from the OCSC Sailing School, earned certifications with U.S. Sailing, and chartered a variety of boats on the San Francisco Bay.  Thanks to a former instructor, and now good friend, I have also had the opportunity to complete over 60 days of blue-water ocean sailing, including four ocean crossings.

In January of 2017, I returned to the OCSC Sailing School and applied to be a Sailing Instructor.  After interviews, written exams, and on-the-water evaluations (by both OCSC and U.S. Sailing), I accomplished the first part of my three-part career in sailing:  I began work as a Sailing Instructor!

That’s the recap of my journey thus far.  So, now, “What’s next?" you ask.

My goal in 2018 is to apply for (and hopefully earn) a Captain’s License with the U.S. Coast Guard.  The license will facilitate, but by no means guarantee, accomplishing the second and third parts of my dream - skippering charters and delivering yachts (and, importantly, getting paid to do so).

Currently, I’m perfectly qualified to take any friends or guests out on a sailboat for the day, the night, or an extended period of time.  However, I’m not legally able to be paid for it (unless I’m working for an organization like OCSC Sailing School).  With my Captain’s License, I can be paid directly as an individual skipper.  Thus, I could buy a boat and offer to take people out on charter tours in the San Francisco Bay or elsewhere.  

The Captain’s License will also add further credibility to my Maritime CV.  This, in turn, will hopefully make me more noticeable and marketable to experienced yacht deliverers, who may be more likely to offer me work as Crew or First Mate.  Such experience ultimately might lead to skippering my own yacht deliveries.

So the Captain’s License is an important step in building my career as a sailing instructor, charter skipper, and yacht deliverer. 

So, how do I get a Captain’s License?  Well, it’s quite a process which I’ll outline at the bottom of this post.  The short answer is I need to log a lot of time on the water, and I need to pass a lot of exams.  This means I'll have to put a hold on my travels, for the most part.  

To complete the required 360 days of “sea service” as required by the U.S. Coast Guard, I will be staying put in the Bay Area, and teaching Basic Keelboat and Basic Cruising classes as much as possible at the OCSC Sailing School.  I’ve lined up an apartment in San Carlos as home base.

In March, I’ll head to Portland, Oregon, where I’ve enrolled in a highly-reputable and intensive 10-day “Captain’s License Course” to study and prepare myself for the written exams.

In September, I’ll head to Croatia where I’ll skipper another 2-week charter in the Adriatic Sea, similar to what I did in 2015 except this time I’m skippering a catamaran!  This will be a good  addition to my sea service as it counts toward more near-coastal and 50-ton experience.

By the end of the calendar year, I hope to have all of the documents, exams, and sea service required for submission to the U.S. Coast Guard.  Then I'll wait for the USCG to review and approve.  Or not.   

If all goes well, I'll begin 2019 as Captain Dan, less than four years after I hung up my hat as Corporate Dan.   It will a tough year of work, study, and discipline, but I feel good about the path, the process, and the prospects for the future.  


For those interested, here’s a brief description of and requirements for a Captain’s License, which is a type of “Merchant Mariner Credential” with the U.S. Coast Guard.

Application, Fee, and Oath

I submit an application, pay a fee, and repeat an oath to the U.S. Coast Guard.  With my application, I submit proof of all of the following:

Transportation Worker Identification Credential

I need to apply for this credential, which is a very straightforward process including an online application, a fee, and an in-person appointment for fingerprinting.

Physical Exams

As you might expect, I’ll have to pass multiple physical tests to prove I’m physically capable of operating a vessel.   These include drug test, eye test, hearing test, and strength/balance test in additional to routine physical exam.

Written Exams

These cover a variety of topics like Rules of Road, Navigation, Deck Safety, and Deck General.  Since I want to be a captain on sailboats, I’ll also need to pass the Sailing exam, which is another series of questions.  There is no “practical exam” or “driving test” for the credential.  I guess the USCG assumes you can drive a boat if you’ve achieved your sea service time.

First Aid and CPR Training

Although I’m already certified, I have to re-certify so that my certification is within one year of my application to the U.S. Coast Guard.

California Boater Card

This is a new requirement rolling out in 2018 in California.  It requires an online course that takes several hours. It seems to target motorboat and jet ski operators, but it has useful rules-of-the-road information for sailors, too.

Character References

I’ll be searching for three people who are willing to submit brief, notarized statements declaring that I’m a responsible, capable person. 

Sea Service Form

I have to submit paper records documenting at least 360 days of “sea service” time.   This is why I’ve been keeping a logbook!  This is tough though.  A “day” is 4 hours.  But so is 8 hours or even 24 hours!  Even a 10-day passage from New Zealand to Fiji (sailing 24 hours a day for 10 days) is only 10 days despite being 240 hours!  This makes the accumulation much more time consuming.  Even days in San Francisco where I’ve done a day sail with one group, and a night sail with another group, is still only 1 day of sea time.  I’m approaching 300 days now, targeting to get to 360 by the end of the calendar year.


After gathering all of the above, I then submit the package to the U.S. Coast Guard.  They will review, and if all goes well, they’ll issue me a Merchant Mariner Credential

The specific type of credential I'm applying for is the Boat Captain Credential, and even that credential has a few subcategories.  The two big ones are:

  • Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessel

This refers to a basic license I could get that would enable me to carry up to 6 paying passengers on a vessel.  So even on a 10-person boat, I can only carry 6-paying passengers.  This license is commonly referred to as “6-pack” and is typical for skippers driving a water taxi or launch. Not bad, but I ultimately would want to upgrade to “Master” which enables me to carry any number of paying passengers, up to the vessel’s capacity.

  • Master Credential

The Master credential will remove the “paying passenger” restriction.  There are multiple variations of the Master credential based on Range (Inland, Near Coastal, Ocean) and Tonnage (25-, 50-, or 100-Ton).  These will be determined by the experience (called “sea service”) that I submit, which documents the vessels and locations that I have sailed.  I will initially qualify for Inland, 25-Ton, or maybe 50-Ton.  I'm ultimately targeting Near Coastal, 50-Ton. 

So that's it.  That's my plan for 2018.  It will be a year of focus and discipline to advance my career and enhance my future!  Like I've said, there is no guarantee but I'm going for it.

 Aboard SV Avalon, somewhere in the South Pacific Ocean.

Aboard SV Avalon, somewhere in the South Pacific Ocean.

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A Chile Wrap

Here's a final wrap on my trip to Chile.  (It's really just some notes for myself about what I did this last week, because I was completely lazy and just wandered around some smaller towns.  If I didn't write anything, I know I'd look back and think, "What the heck did I do for a week?")

I’ve been to Chile several times before, so my focus on this particular trip has been volunteering, not exploring.  But I couldn’t spend two months in any country without taking a little time to see new (or favorite) places.

So, after 7 weeks of volunteering on Isla Tenglo, I bid farewell to my host family, my neighbors, and my new friends, and I boarded a bus headed north.

I would stop at Concepcion and Chillan before heading to Santiago for my flight home.

The first leg was Puerto Montt to Concepcion.  I booked a $38 ticket for a premium cama (fully reclining) seat for the 8-hour trip.  Ironically, I actually didn’t sleep much, but rather just thoughtfully peered out the window enjoying the view of countryside and volcanos. 

About midway, I noticed dark smoke (not clouds) billowing above the mountains on the horizon. My first thought was a volcano had erupted.  But as we got closer, I could see it was a wildfire spreading through the dry farmland, with fire trucks and crews racing to control the blaze.  They diverted our bus to a detour route, once which would end up increasing our travel time by 2 hours. 

Finally in Concepcion, I took a cab to my Hotel Alborada.  The hotel had received good reviews online.  My experience, though, was a bit disappointing.  After an extended bus trip, I just wanted a long, hot shower.  No luck; no hot water.  The disappointment was partially offset by the breakfast buffet and central location.

The next day, I took a walk along the river front (Concepcion is located along the Biobio River) which has a bike path and a few small parks and memorials.  Then I headed toward the main plaza, weaving my way through the bustling streets.

For dinner, I spoiled myself and grabbed a table at Quijote, one of the best restaurants in town, located right on the Plaza de Independencia.  I ordered a huge steak, mashed potatoes, tomato and avocado salad, and two glasses of wine for $40 USD.  Not bad.

After dinner, I wandered down to Plaza Peru where there were quite a few cafés and bar with both indoor and outdoor seating.  I enjoyed my first official “michelada” (lager with lime juice and salted rim) before heading back to the hotel.  If I'd been traveling with friends, this might have been a cool spot to spend the evening out and about.

In the morning, after another breakfast buffet, I took a taxi back to the bus station for the next leg of my trip – a 2-hour bus ride to Chillan.  I had visited Chillan back in 2008, and had fond memories of it.

Arriving at the bus station in Chillan, just off Avenida Ecuador, I walked a few blocks back down Avenida O’Higgins to my hotel, Hotel Diego de Almargo.  (Conveniently, the bus had passed by the hotel on the way to the station, so I was able to spot it and navigate my way back on foot.)  The 10-story hotel appeared to be newly built, and offered modern amenities like a pool, sauna, and gym.  More importantly, though, the hotel had lots of hot water, and was easy walking distance to the bus station, the train station, and the main plaza.

After checking in, I headed out to the Plaza de Armas.  I was surprised to see the quaint, shady park covered in tents and kiosks.  As it turned out, there was a National Folklore and Craft Beer festival going on this weekend!  So much for eating healthy and getting rest.

I sat in the park and nibbled on kebabs, choripan, and beer, watching people and listening to music.  I walked through the shopping district and central market as well, but was quickly drawn back to the park.

In the morning, I enjoyed an even better breakfast buffet.  Satiated, I laced up my boots and walked around town, perusing the stalls and mini-restaurants in the “mercado.”  I ended up in the park again, washing down a choripan with a fruit smoothie and hoping they cancel each other out.

I remember in 2008, I had walked all the way down Avenida O’Higgins to Chillan Viejo.  I didn’t do that this time, but I remember it being a nice walk and a good way to spend the afternoon.  Something for next time.

I stopped by the train station in hopes of buying my ticket to Santiago for tomorrow morning, but the station was closed.  I headed back to the park for the evening and for more healthy eating of grilled meats and French fries.

In the morning, I was up early for breakfast at 7:00am, and headed to the train station with my bags at 7:45.  At 8:00am, the ticket office opened, only to inform me that the train was fully booked.  Damn!  I had been looking forward to the nice train ride.  (Most of the trains in Chile have been put out of service; this was one of the last remaining trains in operation, as I understand.)

I noticed a taxi loitering outside, so I hopped in and asked him to take me to the main bus terminal, where I would book a bus to Santiago.  I found one operated by EME that was leaving momentarily, with semi-cama seats available for $20 USD. Great!  I loaded my bag and hopped on – buying my ticket once we were moving.  I was in the far back corner, a window, which seemed like a good spot to be (other than having to awkwardly crawl over the man in the aisle seat).  Once I was in, great, footrest and recline….until the man in front of me reclined his seat almost onto my lap!  Ugh, I could barely raise my knees and felt very claustrophobic, especially when the air conditioning seemed to only work every 30 minutes or so.  I focused on watching the landscape and surfing the web – yes, the bus had WIFI thankfully (though no power supply).

I arrived in Santiago at 1:30pm, and again took a cab to my hotel.  I checked into the Hotel Sommelier Boutique, on Avenida Merced, and was pleasantly surprised.  The hotel was very nice, quaint, and definitely boutique.  It was centrally-located in Belle Arts, with a grocery store across the street. After settling in to my room on the “Sauvignon Blanc” floor, I took a walk to Plaza de Armas, through the mural-lined Barrio Bellevista to the café/bar lined of Avenida Pio Nono.  I enjoyed a curbside beer and “Thai Pollo” at a restaurant along the popular street.  Then I went back to the hotel and decided to just lounge in my room to watch the Super Bowl.  I ordered a salmon and avocado salad to go from a restaurant around the corner, but had difficulty eating it without a fork and difficulty tasting it without dressing (which I’d forgotten at the restaurant). 

The next morning, I enjoyed yet another breakfast buffet.  The buffet at this boutique hotel was a bit fancier than I need, offering gourmet pastries and dessert items.  I stuck to cereal, eggs, juices, and coffee. 

I spent the day and evening poking along the streets of Lastarria, Belle Arts, and Bellevista again, just enjoying my time in this large, international city.  I returned to the hotel early to pack my bags.  Tomorrow I return to the U.S.

On the morning of February 6th, I enjoyed my final breakfast buffet (and late checkout).  After a second coffee at the rooftop café in the hotel (which I forgot to mention is a cool feature), I ventured out for a final meal – I chose the “menu del dia” at the Utopia Restaurante on Lastarria.  It was good food at reasonable prices, good WIFI, and good street-scene (passers-by, vendors, etc.).

At 5:00pm, I went back to the hotel to watch the launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, grabbed my backpack, and headed to the airport for my own take-off.  Although I wasn't headed to outer space, I did have second thoughts for a minute as we descended over the $5 billion donut-shaped, space-age headquarters in Cupertino, California.

(By the way, side note, the donuts in Chile are phenomenal.  Who would have guessed?  Granted, you should probably exercise caution before eating too many of these super-sweet, high fat-calorie delights.)

The week of exploring was just what I needed.  It was actually less about exploring, and more about just resting and reflecting on my time in Chile.  And what a good time it was.  All 8 weeks of it.  Thanks to everyone who was involved in hosting me, entertaining me, and helping me on Isla Tenglo.  I’ll miss you, but I know I’ll be back!

 I'll miss waking up to this view on Isla Tenglo.

I'll miss waking up to this view on Isla Tenglo.

 Bus trip to Concepcion was extended by 2 hours, as we detoured around a wildfire.

Bus trip to Concepcion was extended by 2 hours, as we detoured around a wildfire.

 The crews fought vigorously to control the fire.

The crews fought vigorously to control the fire.

 Fire endangered this small town.

Fire endangered this small town.

 Having made it to Concepcion, I walk along the boardwalk and enjoyed the view of Biobio River.

Having made it to Concepcion, I walk along the boardwalk and enjoyed the view of Biobio River.

 Coincidentally, there was a folklore and craft beer festival on the same weekend as my visit to Chillan.

Coincidentally, there was a folklore and craft beer festival on the same weekend as my visit to Chillan.

 The mini-restaurants in the 'mercado' in Chillan.

The mini-restaurants in the 'mercado' in Chillan.

 A staple food in Chillan - a choripan with all the trimmings.

A staple food in Chillan - a choripan with all the trimmings.

 Live performances of music and dance at the National Folklore Festival in Chillan.

Live performances of music and dance at the National Folklore Festival in Chillan.

 Admiring the mural-lined streets of Barrio Bellevista in Santiago.

Admiring the mural-lined streets of Barrio Bellevista in Santiago.

 Donuts in Chile.

Donuts in Chile.

 The cool new Apple headquarters looks like a silver donut... or flying saucer?

The cool new Apple headquarters looks like a silver donut... or flying saucer?

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Time's Up on Tenglo

Since my last post, up through the end of January, I have continued with my duties on Isla Tenglo providing water taxi service for the B&B guests and tending to the lawns and gardens.

The weather has been outstanding – sunny and warm, with an occasionally southerly breeze or brief rainstorm to cool things off.  I’ve enjoyed spending time with Christian and his extended family who live on and/or visit the island.

After 7 weeks on the island, I’m also now recognized by and friendly with the locals – whether it’s the staff at Club Nautico Reloncavi (where I eat lunch every day), the other water taxi skippers (who take me back and forth to get the little boat I skipper), the shop owners (where I buy my staples), or random island residents (whom I pass on the path to/from work).  Everyone says “Hola” or “Buenas tardes” with a big smile.

It reminds me why I like this style of travel – staying put in one community for an extended period of time.  I’m not just interacting with people who are paid to be nice to me; I’m interacting with local people as they carry out their daily lives.   And I’m helping my host family run their business and care for their house, trying to make their lives a little easier for a few weeks. 

Because believe me, life isn’t exactly a vacation on Isla Tenglo.  It’s tough living, not resort living.

There is no front office, no security station, no guest services desk, no business center, and no health and wellness fitness room.  There aren’t really any community services like police or fire departments. There is a church, and I believe a school as well.  In general, residents and visitors alike must be self-reliant, resourceful, and resilient. 

I can’t speak for the few hundred people who live here full time, nor the few hundred more who come visit, but I know that for me, the tradeoff is that with the tough living also comes a raw beauty, tranquility, and isolation that is very appealing – as well as the satisfaction of ‘making it’ on your own.  (It’s similar to the appeal of sailing.)

Back home in San Francisco, I never even think about whether I’ll have hot water, WIFI, or heat. On Isla Tenglo, it’s different.  We don’t take these luxuries for granted.  They require constant monitoring and care.  Do we have enough propane in the tank to heat the water?  Is the water pump itself in good working order?  Do we have dry wood for the wood-burning stove?  Do we have too many appliances turned on at once?  (This only happened once, when we had two space heaters, a toaster, and microwave all going at once – the draw on power was too much and the circuit breaker shut off.  Easy to reset, but reminded us we need to be careful.) 

We are lucky that Casa Roja and Punta Piedras are only steps from the beach.  We only have to walk a short distance with heavy grocery or garbage bags.  Many families have to haul their groceries and garbage up and down the hill – mostly by hand or wheelbarrow, as there are only a couple of 4-wheel drive trucks I’ve seen on the island.

We plan our activities around the tides and weather.  High tide means a shorter walk to the house, as the 10-15 foot tidal change can add an extra 30 meters to your walk (across a slippery rocky beach).  Low tide is a good time to inspect boat mooring lines anchored to the seabed, to collect shellfish among the rocks, or to pick up garbage from the beach that washed ashore at high tide.  

The weather here at the north end of Patagonia is unpredictable, and changes rapidly.  Numerous times I’ve had to take a break from my mowing, pruning, or composting to let a small rainstorm pass overhead.  A few times I’ve suspended my ‘taxi service’ because of the high winds and choppy waves.  One day it rained, then hailed, and then was sunny – all within a span of 30 minutes!  I’ve learned to always carry by waterproof jacket and pants, an extra upper layer, and my fleece hat in my backpack wherever I go… just in case.  That south wind is cold!

The weather can get pretty nasty, with gusty wind in particular.  We had a power line go down in December because of the high winds breaking a large tree branch.  Another day we had a tree fall onto the deck, with only the lighter-weight branches hitting the house.  Either event could have been a lot worse!  (A side benefit of the tree falling down was we ended up with a lot of firewood that will be dry by this winter, hopefully.) 

There are a couple of small stores on the island.  I use the term ‘store’ loosely.  These generally take the form of a storage shed in someone’s front yard, stocked with a small selection of canned and dry goods, bottled beverages, and some fresh local vegetables and eggs.  I walk up to the house, ring the doorbell, and whoever answers then escorts me over to the shed where I do my shopping.  The inventory is hit or miss, as are the operating hours.  Several times, I’ve tried to go shopping, but no one is home.  Other times I’ve gone only to find key staples (fresh vegetables, pasta, or beer) are out of stock.  

If I’m not providing my own taxi service, I use the local (professional) boat taxi service – but they only operate during daytime, so we plan our outings to the mainland accordingly.  No late nights out in Puerto Montt, or we’re sleeping on the docks!  Actually, we are fortunate to have the friendly staff of Club Nautico Reloncavi who will take us to the island as a last resort if the boat taxis have stopped running.  And Christian’s Beneteau 44 sailing yacht is at the dock; I slept on the boat a few times for convenience if I’m providing late-night or early-morning crossings for guests on the little boat.

My gardening responsibilities are seemingly endless.  It’s summer now and things are growing like crazy.  I can barely keep up.  Just when I finish mowing the expansive lawn at one of the houses, it’s time to mow the lawn at the other house.  I’ve been trying to compost the grass cuttings, but even the compost piles are getting overrun by grass cuttings.  I need more ‘brown’ stuff, but nothing in Patagonia is brown right now – it’s green, green, green. 

Life on Tengo Island teaches you to be resourceful. You have to improvise sometimes, and make things work until you can get to the mainland again.  In this regard, it’s like sailing.  You have to be self-reliant and use what you have around you.

The other day, a neighbor invited me in for coffee.  I watched her make shrimp empanadas.  She used an empty wine bottle as a rolling pin, and a small plate on its side as a dough cutter.  I watched another neighbor use a huge piece of styrafoam as a dinghy to paddle to his boat anchored offshore. 

Reduce, reuse, and recycle.  These words have never been more true when you live on a small island. 

So it is not easy living – but the rewards are worth the effort.

On Isla Tenglo, you are immersed in nature.   The plant life is all encompassing -- from bright green ferns to towering trees, from colorful flowers to ripening berries and apples.  There is playful marine life, like sea lions and penguins, and traditional livestock like cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens.  And as I’ve mentioned, the weather and tides are part of daily life that you can’t ignore.

The community is welcoming, friendly, and supportive. Everyone I walk by on the island says “Hola” or “Buenos dias.”  People help each other.  We gave a neighbor a ride to the mainland the other day.  A gentleman repositioned the boat for me as the tide receded faster than I’d anticipated.  A neighbor invited me to sit out on her front lawn the other day to enjoy the view overlooking the channel.

The feeling of separation, even isolation, from the hustle and bustle of Puerto Montt is quite unique.  Life is stripped down to what's necessary.  Luxuries may not be material things, but natural things, like a sunny day that dries your laundry quickly or a gentle breeze that dries the sweat from your brow.  It’s a bit like stepping back in time, or at least slowing down time. 

Unfortunately, though, time keeps going, and my time on Tenglo Island is up.  I’ve been here 7 weeks, and have enjoyed my time with fantastic people on this amazing little island.  But I have to get back to my own life in San Francisco.  So, after a couple of tasty farewell dinners (homemade gnocchi and traditional asado - gracias!), I'm headed north to Santiago by bus, taking about a week to poke along a few smaller towns before catching my flight home.

I’ll miss Tenglo, but I’m comforted by knowing I’ll be back again someday.  Hasta lluego!

 Taking a stroll along one of the roads on Isla Tenglo.

Taking a stroll along one of the roads on Isla Tenglo.

 Beach walk at low tide.

Beach walk at low tide.

 Beach walk at low tide.

Beach walk at low tide.

 Up on the ridge, overlooking the south side of Isla Tenglo.

Up on the ridge, overlooking the south side of Isla Tenglo.

 Relaxing at Club Nautico Reloncavi (on the mainland), waiting for guests to arrive.  This part of the job isn't very tough.  

Relaxing at Club Nautico Reloncavi (on the mainland), waiting for guests to arrive.  This part of the job isn't very tough.  

 On the mainland, I hiked up a long set of stairs to the ridge, overlooking Isla Tenglo and the Club Nautico Reloncavi.

On the mainland, I hiked up a long set of stairs to the ridge, overlooking Isla Tenglo and the Club Nautico Reloncavi.

 On the mainland, I hiked up a long set of stairs to the ridge, overlooking Isla Tenglo and the Club Nautico Reloncavi.

On the mainland, I hiked up a long set of stairs to the ridge, overlooking Isla Tenglo and the Club Nautico Reloncavi.

 Christian preparing the barbecue in his front yard.

Christian preparing the barbecue in his front yard.

 Christian grilling all kinds of meats!

Christian grilling all kinds of meats!

 The view from my little room in Casa Roja.  I'll miss it!

The view from my little room in Casa Roja.  I'll miss it!

 

 

 

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Back and Forth I Go

Not a ton to report this week.  I’ve fallen into a routine of providing the water taxi service as needed throughout the day, followed by restful evenings on the deck or in the living room at Casa Roja.  

If I have a long break in between channel crossings, I’ll try to do some yardwork around the house – checking the boat every 30-60 minutes to make sure the ebbing tide hasn’t left the boat stranded on the beach.  I admit, one day this happened and I was very embarrassed!  I had forgotten to set my timer and the time slipped away from me.  About 90 minutes had passed before I raced down to the beach, only to find the boat stuck on dry land! It took three of us to get her back into the water.

Although the week has been sort of ‘routine’, it has been far from slow.  The last week has seen a flurry of activity, driven not only by a rotation of guests in both Bed & Breakfast locations, but also by preparation for the upcoming Chiloe Regatta 2018. 

For the Bed & Breakfast business, these means welcoming guests at the yacht club, taking them across the channel, and escorting them to either Punta Piedras or Casa Roja.  I help them with their luggage too.  I’ve been amazed at some of the large suitcases I’ve had to lug up and down the beach!  Tomas says that a lot of Argentinians come to Chile for shopping, because it’s cheaper.  That might explain some of these oversized bags.  The B&B business has been good, so that means a lot of back and forth with guests.  But it also means a lot of back and forth with groceries and garbage!  (I haven't gotten a boot-full of water this week, so I must be getting better at this gig.  The bummer is I found out the boat is too small in length to qualify as a proper vessel for my sea service log that I will submit to the US Coast Guard this year.)

In addition, the Chiloe Regatta 2018 is coming at the end of the month.  I’ve heard about 100 boats are participating.  The yacht club and marina has seen a lot of activity as the boats and crew get ready.  There is an after-race party at the yacht club, as well as some private viewing-parties aboard local yachts.  I’ve helped with some of the stocking-up of the yacht club kitchen and storage room with the necessary supplies.  I’m sure I’ll be helping with the event at the yacht club (or on the boats) in some fashion.  We’ll see.

On Sunday, after an early morning taxi run across the channel, I took the rest of the day off. I had planned to go sailing on Christian’s Beneteau 44, but decided my body needed to rest.  I took the local bus into town, walked along the promenade, and ate a huge lunch of Lomo a lo Pobre (steak, eggs, fries).  I came back to Isla Tenglo and hung out with some neighbors and friends in their yard.  It was a beautiful, warm, summer day!

 Taxi anyone?

Taxi anyone?

 Along the promenade in Puerto Montt.  That's Isla Tenglo in the background.

Along the promenade in Puerto Montt.  That's Isla Tenglo in the background.

 The promenade in Puerto Montt.

The promenade in Puerto Montt.

 Lomo a lo Pobre (steak, eggs, fries).  Yes, I ate it all.  

Lomo a lo Pobre (steak, eggs, fries).  Yes, I ate it all.  

 A typical evening after work.  Pasta, wine, internet, and a fantastic view of the garden and bay.

A typical evening after work.  Pasta, wine, internet, and a fantastic view of the garden and bay.

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Did Someone Call a Taxi?

The Casa Roja Bed & Breakfast is in full swing. We’ve had a house full of guests, including the owner of the house, for the last week.  I’ve been sleeping on Christian’s sailboat to make room for the guests.

Due to the rain last week, my grass-cutting responsibility has been on hold.  But early this week, the sun came out and I spent two days cutting the grass and pruning the bushes at both houses.  The properties look great.  I wish I had been able to finish before the guests arrived to provide a great first impression … but not much I can do about the crazy unpredictable weather around here!

My primary responsibility, though, is transferring the guests to and from the island in the 12-foot aluminum motor boat.  I also take Christian and the rest of our staff (consisting of Christian’s wife, son, and son’s girlfriend) back and forth.  In both cases, there is usually quite a bit of cargo as well – either suitcases for guests, or groceries and garbage for the staff. 

The transfer itself is not so difficult.  Yes, there can be a lot of wind and chop, and there is a lot of boat traffic – fishing boats, tug boats, sail boats, and other taxi boats.  We have some marine life to watch out for too – penguins casually swimming about, and sea lions playing in the water or napping on the large, flat-topped mooring buoys.  Coming from windy, busy San Francisco Bay, I’m used to most of this – except for the penguins.

Even the docking at the marina is straightforward.  We generally have a reserved space, alongside one of the dock fingers.  Because of the regatta happening at the end of the month, the marina is quickly filling with boats though, and we are likely to lose our prime spot.  But still, it’s not difficult to dock this little motorboat.

The trickiest part of the transfer is the landing on the island itself.  We don’t have a dock or pier.  We land directly on the rocky beach.  We have 3 or 4 different landing spots depending on the tides and wind.  It took me a while (and a few boots-full of water) before I mastered the beach landing – approaching the beach at the right speed and angle so that I can cut the engine and raise it out of the water before the propeller hits the shallow rocky bottom, and still have enough speed so that the bow just gently glides up onto the beach.  A few times I’ve stopped short and either rowed to shore or stepped off into deeper water than I’d anticipated (hence the boots full of water comment). 

On the approach, I also have to watch out for submerged boulders and lines.  There are a bunch of other boats tied up at the beach with lines running out to buoys offshore.  These lines can be at varying depths depending on the tide, so it’s not just a matter of knowing where they are, but also knowing approximately how deep they are at a given time.

The most time-consuming (and nerve-wracking) task though is managing the anchoring of the boat once I’m on the island.  For example, once I land with the guests, I’ll anchor the boat and help them with their luggage to either Punta Piedras or Casa Roja.  I might then stick around one of the houses and do some work in the yard.  But, because of the big tidal change here – anywhere from 10 to 15 feet – I have to constantly go down to the beach and check on the boat anchor.  (I go check every 30-60 minutes depending on tide height, wind, etc.)

If the tide is coming in, I have to make sure I have enough line between the anchor and bow, and enough line running from the anchor up the beach.  If the tide is going out, I have to make sure I keep resetting the anchoring further and further out so that the boat doesn’t get beached.  (I’ll see if I can post a video of the anchoring process.) 

Now, with my sailing background, I’ve been trained on calculations to help with all of this.  But, I still feel uneasy given the nature of conditions around here.  I’m still getting familiar with the slope of the beach, and the location of boulders and lines.  If I’m not careful I could easily anchor the boat in what seems to be a safe spot at high tide, only to realize I’m boxed in by lines or boulders as the tide goes out. 

I also have to pay attention to wind shifts.  On several occasions, the wind has shifted, so I’ve had to move the boat to a different anchorage midday.

As you might imagine, this becomes difficult when I’m simultaneously trying to mow the lawn, or do other work around the house – and then my 30- or 60-minute alarm goes off and I walk down the hill to check on the boat, always with that slight worry of seeing the boat stuck high up on the beach, or worse, drifting down the channel on its own.

But, so far so good.  From time to time, I’ll take a break and take the boat back to the yacht club, where I can enjoy the fast WIFI, tasty lunch, and pleasant view of the marina.  Here, I can dock the boat worry-free and just relax.

Apart from working in the garden and running the boat taxi service, I’ve been spending my time chatting with guests and staff, enjoying evening barbecues on the deck at Casa Roja, and taking casual strolls along the beach and hillside.

 The little motorboat I'm using for the taxi service, along with the wooden ramp I put out to help guests board without getting their feet wet.  And life vests on board for everyone!

The little motorboat I'm using for the taxi service, along with the wooden ramp I put out to help guests board without getting their feet wet.  And life vests on board for everyone!

 The beach at low tide.  I took a few pictures of landing spots to study the location of hazards like submerged boulders and lines at higher tides.

The beach at low tide.  I took a few pictures of landing spots to study the location of hazards like submerged boulders and lines at higher tides.

 Here you can see a mooring line that, at higher tide, would be submerged and hazardous to our propeller!

Here you can see a mooring line that, at higher tide, would be submerged and hazardous to our propeller!

 Making my landing at high tide, still having to navigate around the lines from other boats.

Making my landing at high tide, still having to navigate around the lines from other boats.

 Again navigating my way up to the rocky beach, avoiding the mooring lines from neighboring boats.  

Again navigating my way up to the rocky beach, avoiding the mooring lines from neighboring boats.  

 Here we are at the dock at Club Nautico Reloncavi on the mainland.

Here we are at the dock at Club Nautico Reloncavi on the mainland.

 One morning I went with David to help on this beautiful Swan 82.  We were going to rig the headsails and fill up with fuel.  But there was too much wind to hoist the sails at the dock.  And the fuel dock was closed for repairs.  0-2.  Bummer.

One morning I went with David to help on this beautiful Swan 82.  We were going to rig the headsails and fill up with fuel.  But there was too much wind to hoist the sails at the dock.  And the fuel dock was closed for repairs.  0-2.  Bummer.

 The beach in front of Casa Roja at sunset.

The beach in front of Casa Roja at sunset.

 Cruising back to the Marina at sunset.

Cruising back to the Marina at sunset.

 I live by this tide chart now, monitoring the timing of high and low tides, and the change in height of tide.  Using the rule of twelfths just like I was taught! Thanks #0CSC.

I live by this tide chart now, monitoring the timing of high and low tides, and the change in height of tide.  Using the rule of twelfths just like I was taught! Thanks #0CSC.

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Open for Business!

The new year has started, and so have the Bed & Breakfast services at Casa Roja!  We have spent the week getting the house ready... after welcoming in 2018, that is.

The week kicked off with a New Year’s Eve party at Casa Roja. Several friends and extended family of Tomas arrived with arms full of food and drink.  Since the boat taxi doesn’t run past 9:00pm, guests brought sleeping bags or made other sleeping arrangements on Isla Tenglo. 

The party was an all-night affair complete with barbecued steak, sausages, and vegetables; seafood pasta; and all kinds of appetizers, salads, and desserts.  Food was complemented with wine, beer, and a local favorite “piscola” (Pisco and Coke). 

It was a chilly night but most of the party took place on the front deck, overlooking the channel full of ship lights reflecting off the dark water.  At midnight, instead of watching fireworks, we watched the slow burn of red flares launched from around the marina across the channel.

In the morning, I was the first person awake (probably because I was one of the first to go to bed), so I spent an hour or two clearing up and washing the dishes.  Due to my limited cooking skills, my role in the kitchen is usually washing dishes.  I don’t mind; I even find it somewhat therapeutic.

The rest of the day was sort of lost; we just took it easy, lounging around the house on the comfortable sofas or outside deck.  We knew that January was going to be a busy month – Casa Roja was opening as a Bed & breakfast! 

Christian has already been running a Bed & Breakfast service at his house (utilizing his two backyard cabanas) called “Punta Piedras.”  As the local manager for Casa Roja (the owner is based in England, and is only here part-time during the summer), Christian has also set up this house for Bed & Breakfast service, using AirBnb and Booking for reservations.  Look us up!

We already have guests lined up for a few weeks in January, starting this first week.  So, after a day of recovery from NYE, we began some serious preparation.

We cleaned the bedrooms and bathrooms, setting them up with fresh linens and basic supplies.  We organized the kitchen, making sure the guest-dedicated dishes were clean and ready.  We talked about roles and responsibilities, guest expectations, complementary services (e.g., breakfast) and premium services (e.g., lunch, dinner, excursions). 

Island life is not easy.  Simple tasks – like going to the grocery store for supplies – take more time and energy than normal.  When Tomas and I went grocery shopping, it took nearly half a day because of logistics like crossing the channel to/from the mainland and walking from the beach up to the house while managing a grocery load of 10-15 bags!  Remember, we don’t have cars on the island! 

We don’t have garbage service, either.  So yes, every few days, we haul 2-3 trash bags from the two houses, across the channel, and to the dumpsters at the yacht club. 

Frequently, we have to plan our activities around the weather. That may be less about life on an island and more about life in Patagonia.  The weather changes constantly!  It rained a lot this week, which confined us to indoor chores. 

But, during the short breaks in the rain, I was able to head outside and tackle a few jobs.  The biggest job was pruning the hydrangeas and clearing the pathway to the red cabana. (The Casa Roja “estate” really has 3 buildings:  the main house, with 3 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms; the red cabana, with 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom; and what I call “the barn,” or storage shed, which has a dormitory-style room above it with 3 beds and a half-bath.)  Side benefits of this job included getting fresh-cut flowers for the house, as well as more material for my composting efforts.

I also gathered the chopped wood from the tree that had fallen on the house, and moved it to the covered wood shed at the side of the barn.  It would hopefully be dry in time for the winter months later this year.

The lawn needed cutting again, but with the heavy rains the last 3-4 days, the lawn was too wet.  As much as I wanted to have it neatly cut for the guests, I'd have to wait another day or two.

As part of the preparation for the guests, I moved my stuff out of Casa Roja and onto Christian’s 42-foot sailboat at the yacht club marina.  I would sleep on the boat for the next few weeks, to make room for the paying guests at the house.  Also, this would facilitate my key responsibility: running the boat taxi service using Christian’s 12-foot motor boat (also housed at the yacht club).  By staying on Christian’s sailboat, I’d be ready to take the little boat over to the island anytime a guest needed to come to the mainland, and vice versa – when they arrive at the club, I’m right there ready to greet them and take them to the island.  As a side benefit, the club has hot showers, fast WIFI, and tasty lunch service).

The first guests were actually staying at Punta Piedras, not at Casa Roja.  They were a family of 4 living in northern Chile.  I ferried them back and forth to the mainland a few times, but the biggest adventure was taking the father, Carl, on a 3-hour fishing expedition around the other side of Isla Tenglo!  We didn’t catch anything but we had great weather and calm seas, and we saw a lot of seals, pelicans, and penguins.

Our first guests at Casa Roja arrived Saturday, all the way from Montreal, Canada, and stayed for a couple of nights.  Tomas had returned to Santiago for a few days to work on a music recording, so Blanca and I took care of the guest services.

At this point, the weather was starting to improve and the house was really looking good.  We were quite literally open for business – a good thing because we have two more reservations coming up next week!

We also have a very special guest arriving Sunday – the owner of Casa Roja!  Jasmin, and her friend Polly, will be joining us for the month!

 The "breakfast" part of Bed & Breakfast.  (The bread and coffee are on the counter behind me, in case you're analyzing what's missing.  Eggs and fresh juice are also available as premium options.)

The "breakfast" part of Bed & Breakfast.  (The bread and coffee are on the counter behind me, in case you're analyzing what's missing.  Eggs and fresh juice are also available as premium options.)

 The "bed" part of Bed & Breakfast.  Nice view!

The "bed" part of Bed & Breakfast.  Nice view!

 Preparing seafood pasta for New Year's Eve!

Preparing seafood pasta for New Year's Eve!

 Before trimming the hydrangeas.

Before trimming the hydrangeas.

 After trimming the hydrangeas.  Showing the path to the cabana.

After trimming the hydrangeas.  Showing the path to the cabana.

 Skippering the fishing expedition around the other side of Isla Tenglo.

Skippering the fishing expedition around the other side of Isla Tenglo.

 Hard at work.

Hard at work.

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Sail and Deliver!

The highlight of my second week on Isla Tenglo was actually getting *off* the island and helping Christian’s son-in-law, David, with a yacht delivery.  (David works at the shipyard at Club Nautico Reloncavi as marine engineer / mechanic / boat manager / general handyman.  If you have a boat problem, David is your guy to fix it.)

On this occasion, the owner of a new 58-foot Beneteau wanted his yacht moved from Marina del Sur in Puerto Montt down to the city of Castro, on the island of Chiloe.  It was about a 100-nautical mile passage. 

From Castro, the owner and his guests would join the boat and sail further south for a couple of weeks – with David staying onboard as skipper/navigator/engineer.  Unfortunately, the rest of the delivery crew – me, Tomas, and Blanca – had to disembark at Castro and drive the owner’s minivan back to Puerto Montt.

We left Casa Roja on Monday morning, December 25.  Yes, Christmas day.  We met David at Christian’s house, and took a boat taxi to the mainland.  At the Club Nautico Reloncavi, we picked up David’s sailing gear from his boat, “Catch the Wind”, and drove up the road to Marina del Sur.

There, we boarded the Beneteau, “Homero II.”  As far as Beneteaus go, she was a beauty.  Sleek and modern, with all the bells and whistles, including electric winches, two headsails, dual helms, bow thruster, bluetooth stereo with Bose speakers, and a television and wet bar that rise out of the cupboards with a push of a button.  She was probably more an island cruiser instead of an open blue water boat; but for this deliver, that was just fine.  There was also a separate “crew quarters” (with 2 berths and a head) in the bow.  This is where David would sleep during the longer passage, while the owner and guests would enjoy the 3 bedrooms, 3 heads, and huge salon and galley. 

We stowed our gear, removed sail and instrument covers, topped off the water supply, and pretty quickly cast off the lines, with the help of a few guys from the marina.  David manages this boat, and sails these waters regularly, so he didn’t need the prep time that I might need if I was chartering this boat for the same passage.

Our first day was going to be a short 4-hour sail down to the island of Puluqui, where Christian’s family owns a small cottage.  (I spent a lot of time here two years ago helping them insulate, sand, and paint the house.)

With 20 knots of wind behind us, we unfurled the large genoa headsail and sailed along at 7-8 knots.  We didn’t even hoist the mainsail.  (Or, actually, the proper term would be “unfurl the mainsail” since this boat had an in-mast furling mainsail.  Not my favorite setup.)

As we approached Puluqui, we had to keep a sharp lookout for chorito (mussel) farms which consist of a lot of floats and buoys, as well as underwater lines.   The entrance to the cove on Puluqui was especially difficult since we arrived just after low tide, and there was a shallow line strung across the entrance of the cove, from the beach to an offshore chorito farm.  We took 3-4 approaches to make sure we got it just right and didn’t snag our propeller on the line.  Well done David!

We then coasted up to one of the mooring balls.  David stopped the boat, while Tomas and I picked up the mooring ball and ran our bowline through the splice.  We tied off the bowline, shut off the engine, and we were set.  We enjoyed a beer as a small rain storm passed overhead.  Then we splashed the dinghy, packed up food for a barbecue, and headed ashore.

We took a quick tour of the cottage, which was pretty much just as I remembered it – but David has now laid concrete and piping for the bathroom that is in-progress.  Then we headed out back to the “quincho” – a small structure with a vented roof and big barbecue pit in the center of the floor.

We lit a fire, cleaned the grill, and had a traditional “asado” with different kinds of meat, supplemented with cold beer, red wine, and some pisco.  It was such a great setting to have the lawn and trees outside, rain and wind blowing, and yet we were tucked away in the quincho toasting by the fire, enjoying the food and beverages.

We headed back to the boat later that night for sleeping.  (The cottage isn’t yet ready for accommodation.)

The next morning came early.  We had a long transit ahead of us – nearly 80 nautical miles – so David wanted to start early.  I missed my alarm, but awoke when David fired up the engine at 6:30am.  By the time I had dressed, he’d already cast off the bowline line from the mooring ball.  I helped guide us out of the cove, around the chorito farms again.

David and I stood watch, enjoying some hot coffee and the sunrise, while Tomas and Blanca continued to sleep.

There was absolutely no wind, so we motored the entire day.  That was kind of a bummer, but the Beneteau’s engine is pretty quiet so it wasn’t that bad.  If anything, it made it easy to sit back and enjoy the scenery as we weaved our way in-between islands and waved to boats we passed.

At one point, a small pod of dolphins swam alongside us, playing in our bow wake.  By the time I got my GoPro out, they had pretty much had enough. 

Tomas and Blanca cooked some great meals that day – breakfast of eggs, ham, and toast; lunch of build-your-own tacos, using leftovers from yesterday’s barbecue. 

We arrived in Castro about 5:30pm, and anchored just off the center of town.  We packed up our stuff, cleaned the boat, enjoyed a cold beer while we waited for the owner to arrive.  Upon the owner’s arrival on shore, David shuttled us to shore, and then shuttled the owner and guests onto the boat.  I watched with a bit of envy as the 8 or 9 guests dinghied back to the big boat.  They were in for a fun adventure the next couple of weeks!  And David too!

Tomas, Blanca, and I had made a reservation at a local Airbnb for the night, since we knew it would be too late to head all the way back to Puerto Montt.  We packed our bags into the van, and drove off, in search of our Airbnb.  It was a “palafito” or "home on stilts," so we knew it was nearby.  As it turns out, it was literally 3 houses down from where we had landed ashore and picked up the minivan.  We did a double-take as we drove right by the house – so we did a quick U-turn and parked right back where we had started and walked to the house.

Violeta showed us the nicely-equipped and centrally-located palafito.  From the balcony, overlooking the water, we could actually see Homero II.  We texted David, and waved to him, laughing that we were so close.

That night we had a delicious dinner at a restaurant nearby, called Mercadito.  I had a big bowl of choritos, which seemed appropriate having spent the last 2 days sailing by so many mussel farms.

The following day, we packed up and made the 3-hour drive back to Puerto Montt.  We stopped in town to do some grocery shopping, and then headed back to the yacht club where we parked the van and took the water taxi back to Isla Tenglo and Casa Roja. 

It was great to be back on the island, but I couldn’t help but wonder how David was doing on the trip south through the islands.  It’s exactly the kind of thing I want to do part-time.

The next few days, we stayed around Casa Roja, catching up on projects like weed-whacking, stirring the compost pile, and general house cleaning. 

We did have one other bit of excitement when one windy evening a large tree from the neighbor’s house blew over, and crashed into the side of Casa Roja!  Some of the top branches and leaves actually hit my bedroom window.  Nothing broke, thankfully.  The next day Tomas had to go to the neighbor to arrange for clean-up.   Sure enough, a guy came by with a chainsaw a few hours later and cut away the tree.  We were left with some new firewood – well, it won’t be dry for a few months I guess.

Tomas and Blanca continued with their great cooking.  The highlight this week was some tasty lamb ribs and lentil stew.  Gracias! 

The coming week will be quite active.  We host a New Year's Eve party at Casa Roja.  Then (after cleaning of course) we convert the house into a Bed & Breakfast and welcome several guests over the next few weeks.  Stay tuned!

 Excited for a yacht delivery in Patagonia!

Excited for a yacht delivery in Patagonia!

 Pretty much brand new 58-foot Beneteau, Homero II.  The enclosed cockpit is very useful when sailing in Patagonia, where there is a lot of rain and cold wind.

Pretty much brand new 58-foot Beneteau, Homero II.  The enclosed cockpit is very useful when sailing in Patagonia, where there is a lot of rain and cold wind.

 Spacious interior!

Spacious interior!

 Big galley.

Big galley.

 First day sailing in 20 knots of wind from behind us, so we unfurled the genoa.

First day sailing in 20 knots of wind from behind us, so we unfurled the genoa.

 Moored at Isla Puluqui.

Moored at Isla Puluqui.

 The quincho where we had a barbecue brewing inside.

The quincho where we had a barbecue brewing inside.

 The blue cottage.  I helped insulate, sand, and paint this house two years ago!

The blue cottage.  I helped insulate, sand, and paint this house two years ago!

 Getting the grill ready inside the quincho.  Also drying my foul weather gear in the background.

Getting the grill ready inside the quincho.  Also drying my foul weather gear in the background.

 Grilling different kinds of meat.

Grilling different kinds of meat.

 Skipper and delivery crew.

Skipper and delivery crew.

 Finishing up with some Pisco.

Finishing up with some Pisco.

 Underway early on Day 2.

Underway early on Day 2.

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 We made it to Castro.  Anchored off the main promenade.

We made it to Castro.  Anchored off the main promenade.

 The view from our palafito (house on stilts).  We could see Homero!

The view from our palafito (house on stilts).  We could see Homero!

 Showing part of our track on day 1 to Isla Puluqui.

Showing part of our track on day 1 to Isla Puluqui.

 Showing part of our track on Day 2 up to Castro.

Showing part of our track on Day 2 up to Castro.

 Anchored in Castro, saying goodbye!

Anchored in Castro, saying goodbye!

 Mmm ceviche at Mercadito.

Mmm ceviche at Mercadito.

 A bowl of choritos (mussels).

A bowl of choritos (mussels).

 Back at Casa Roja later that week, Tomas and Blanca fixed a nice meal - lamb ribs and lentil stew.

Back at Casa Roja later that week, Tomas and Blanca fixed a nice meal - lamb ribs and lentil stew.

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Off to a Strong Start, Almost...

My first week at on Isla Tenglo has been a bit of roller coaster, with one big up and then one big down.  Perhaps I was a little over zealous and wore myself out, as I tend to do.

I arrived on Friday, December 15, which happened to be the night of the yacht club’s Staff Holiday Party.  Excited, I dropped my bags off on Christian’s sailboat and immediately started helping with the setup, moving sofas and chairs, setting the tables, and testing the cold beer.

After a couple of hours, though, I realized how tired I was, having traveled over 24 hours without sleeping.  I used my better judgment and bowed out of the party before it started (and before those fresh mussels and empanadas were ready for sampling).  I picked up my bags, took the water taxi over to Isla Tenglo, and let myself into Casa Roja.  It was only 7pm, but I had no problem falling asleep!

Saturday was a quiet day.  The rain came and went, then came again.  It reminded me how quickly the weather can change here in Patagonia.  It actually hailed for a bit in the morning, and then within 20 minutes, the sun was shining and the front deck was dry!  Amazing.

I took the day to unpack and get re-acquainted with the area.  I took the water taxi over to the mainland and bought some basic supplies from the little store next to the yacht club.  On my way home, I was lucky that friends Veronica and Bernard were on their way to the island with a lot of leftovers from the party.  I helped them with their boxes and bags, in exchange for a free ride over to the island.  We made it just before the rain set in.

Sunday morning, relaxing in the living room at Casa Roja with a cup of tea, I was greeted by Christian’s son, Tomas, who had made the bus trip down from Santiago.  He would be staying here a few weeks with me.  Fantastic!  It would be great to have company. 

The weather cooperated Sunday, with bright sunny skies.  Tomas and I immediately got to work. Things grow quickly here in Patagonia and the spacious yard of Casa Roja needed some attention.

I mowed the massive lawn, while Tomas built a handrail along the pathway leading up to the house. We hoped the handrail would help prop-up the beautiful Calla Lilies that once lined the path, but that now lay ON the path due to damage from recent frost and/or hail.  But no luck. 

We ended up making the decision to prune back the long stretch of flowery plants.  We saved a handful of the flowers, and made arrangements for a few of the rooms in the house.

I continued with some other pruning around the yard while Tomas started prepping for dinner.  We were hosting an election dinner tonight!  Yes, it was Chile’s presidential election. 

Tomas did all the work on dinner, preparing a feast of small dishes – mussels, salmon, meatballs, salad.  My most important contribution was defrosting the homemade pisco sour mix, and serving the frothy, icy drinks around the room.  In typical fashion, since I rarely do the cooking, I managed the clean-up and dish-washing process. 

The election itself was quite interesting – especially how the votes were counted manually and read aloud, one by one, all 6 million of them.   The phone call between candidates was televised, and the concession/victory speeches were made side-by-side; both different than in the US elections.

As if the election wasn’t exciting enough, toward the end of the evening the wind picked up a bit and then… crash!  A tree branch broke, fell on a power line!  The power line snapped and fell to the ground.  We still had power and no one was hurt, thankfully.  Nothing could be done now, this late in the evening.  But we called the power company and the next day a team came out to fix it.

Over the next couple of days, we tackled a few more projects around the house.  I was focused on removing the ivy from the wall of Casa Roja.  It took me a day and a half, with some precarious balancing and creative use of tools, but I did it.  That ivy is tough!  We will have to sand and repaint the wall, but Christian said that’s ok – he’d rather do that than have the ivy provide a potential nesting place for rats and spiders.  (I didn’t see any rats but I certainly came face to face with a few spiders!) 

Tomas was constantly busy too, but my favorite accomplishment was his making/baking two fantastic loaves of bread!  Gracias Tomas!

Those first days were fantastic. It was great to be back here on Isla Tenglo working outside.  The weather was beautiful!  Not winter this time!  (See my entries from 2015. Cold.)

Then, just when I felt we were really on a roll, on Tuesday evening I started feeling a little ill.  I went to bed early hoping it would pass, but Wednesday morning I woke up and hit the wall.  My nose was stuffy and I felt horrible. 

I stayed in bed the next 3 days, surviving on hot tea with lemon and honey, canned peaches and peas, and pasta with olive oil and oregano - and sleeping 18 hours a day.  Christian and Lali brought me some medicine that helped, too.

It’s now Saturday morning and I think I’m on the road to recovery.  I'm feeling much better.  I went outside today for the first time in 3 days.  We had to haul our garbage off the island.  If that doesn't cure me, I don't know what will! :-)  Hey, that's island life.  

Stay tuned for next week... I'm scheduled to help deliver a yacht down the coast!  

Happy holidays everyone!

 Before moving the lawn.

Before moving the lawn.

 After.

After.

 Before cutting back the Calla Lilies.

Before cutting back the Calla Lilies.

 After.

After.

 Before ivy removal.

Before ivy removal.

 After.

After.

 We put some of the flowers to good use around the house. :-)

We put some of the flowers to good use around the house. :-)

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