Monday, December 24, 2012


TIKAL and the dawning of 14 BAKTUN

Last hours of 13 Baktun in Tikal National Park
December 20th, 2012 was the last day of the 13 Baktun of the Mayan calendar. Many folks around the world feared that this meant that it would also be the last day of the world as we knew it. Of course, we all are aware now that life on earth continued.

Just days before that date I was given the opportunity to actually BE IN the ancient Mayan city of Tikal here in Guatemala and take part in the celebrations! A small local travel agency threw together a bus trip complete with meals and park admissions so off we went. No hotel was needed as we would be sleeping (or not) in the park. The Guatemalan  government decided in the last few days to open the park all night so that people of all faiths or lack thereof could experience this historic time. Our group of 28 adventurers (Jonesy stayed home) arrived in the last few minutes of the 20th, hustled to the Gran Plaza of Temple 2 and set up camp. Thousands of people were already there. What a scene!

There were bonfires with dancing and chanting, music, and spotlights in different colors moved about the crowd and up into the nearby jungle and structures of the Gran Plaza. It was spectacular and at yet, at the same time subdued! Kinda reminded me of the music festivals I used to attend back in the late '60s, but with a little more spirituality and fewer drugs. Mayan shamans conducted ceremonies, incense was burned and a rainbow of candles were lit.
Long climb up to the top of Temple 4, Tikal

Through the night and into the next day marimbas (the traditional Guatemalan xylophone) were played by different groups. At about 3am (Dec 21st) a group of young people donned costumes and danced the Dance of the Deer in the Gran Plaza. The costumes were so different from those that I had seen in the past. Some were form-fitting jaguar (printed jersey) outfits and real deer skins and heads! Loved it!

A fire pit and ceremony Tikal December 21, 2012
Some of us decided to walk over to Temple 4 to view the sun rise over Temple 2 and the entire park. It was a long hike through the dark - thankfully, Jonesy had suggested that I take my headlight. After the 4am hike, we all climbed the stairs up the side of the temple. Huffing and puffing we made it to the top an hour before the magical moment of the winter solstice. It was a smart move to go early - the temple was closed to the public before dawn. Why? Because President Perez of Guatemala was there. So only about 100 people were up on top with us.

The sky was clear and filled with stars. We witnessed many shooting stars and I even spotted a satellite crossing the sky right before dawn. A park guide asked us all to be quiet and reflective. That made the next 45 minutes so much better. Yes, as soon as it was light enough my knitting came out. Unfortunately, the clouds moved in right at dawn.

Terry and President Perez of Guatemala
As you know, we all survived and dawn came as usual. A whole lotta people were very relieved and joyous. Don't President Perez of Guatemala and I look happy in this photo here? Although there were plenty of well-armed military police surrounding the base of the temple, up on top the president chatted freely with a few reporters and anyone who approached.

So, after being awake all night, it was time for a guided tour of some of the park. Why not - I figured I could sleep later. Our guide started us out with a detailed description of how the pyramids in Tikal form an astronomical matrix. I think he finally realized that the glazed looks on our sleepless faces meant we weren't absorbing much of his talk. It just wasn't the day for this discussion.
Tikal Gran Plaza Dec. 21st, 2012 Celebration
So we simply wandered through the park and adjacent jungle after that. He pointed out a Aracari Toucan up in a tree! Then we watched a group of spider monkeys swinging through the trees, and a gaggle of Great Curassows strutting their stuff through the underbrush. These are large black birds that look a little like chunky pheasants. Of course there were large green parrots throughout the jungle being their loud and boisterous selves. Coatimundis (coati) cautiously ventured out of the thickets to search around the trashcans for bits of food.
Marimba and Mayan dancers

Temple 2 and Gran Plaza 
By late morning we were ready to find the bus and begin our 4-hour ride back to the Rio Dulce and our bunks on our boats. At the beginning of the ride there was plenty of animated chat about what each of us saw and experienced. But after half an hour there was silence except for the rumbling of the bus engine and the roar of the tires on the road. Heads nodded. I even had the head of one of the male passengers slowly creep my way and land on my left shoulder. So we bounced along the road, his head gently bouncing on my bare shoulder. It's OK. He was about my son's age so I just imagined that's who he was and was content.

At some point on the trip home, we turned into the small town of El Remate which is located on the shore of the lake Lago Peten Itza in the district of Peten. We had stopped to enjoy a light box lunch with views of the lake. Also, this village is known for it's wood carvings and there were plenty there to see. Children hawked keychains with carved animal figures to anyone who would make eye contact. If I didn't live on a sailboat with minimal storage spaces, I would have eagerly purchased some of the beautiful serving bowls and platters.

We made it to the Rio Dulce and were quickly tossed into launcha boats and delivered to our respective marinas. I'm sure my fellow travelers hit their bunks quickly like I did - with visions of bonfires, dancers and temples in their heads. Life is good.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Celebrations on the Rio Dulce - Part 1

Marco with our Devil pinata
Burn Devil, Burn 
At the stroke of 6 pm on December 7th, we burned the devil (or rather a pinata effigy). In doing so, we reduced our emotional rubbish from this past year to ashes. The tradition of La Quema del Diablo in Guatemala began in colonial times and continues today. Notice the beard on the devil? The Spanish Conquistadors were heavily bearded while the local Mayan men didn't have much facial hair. Beard=Evil.

 Here at Mario's Marina (and Adult Summer Camp for Cruisers) we burned all of our worries, problems, misdeeds, and bad luck. we feel better and can start a new year without those burdens. Kinda like an emotional cleansing with a little pyrotechnical fun thrown in. Looks like it worked for Jonesy and Greg (s.v. Kajun Diva) - no worries there!

Boat chores have been our focus this past month due to both the cooler weather and the approaching planned date to set off to Belize and Mexico. Jonesy has dealt with many maintenance issues;

Bright varnish and steel @$4/hr marina rate
Welcome aboard?
I made fresh, delicious and healthy meals every day and knit. The produce is so incredibly inexpensive here and farm fresh so why not use more of it? I have finally learned to slow down and  take my time to make meals. After years of rushing home to throw together a meal for a starving family, I'm just starting to (yes, after 6 years afloat) approach meal prep as a culinary chef and not as a short-order cook. Nothing fancy...just good clean food (thanks Savo for inspiring me)!

Today, and for the next few days, we are having our stairs from the cockpit down to our boat interior sanded and varnished. It's about a 5-ft drop down into our salon. How do we in and out? By using our trusty fold-up aluminum ladder which we have had lashed on-deck since before leaving San Diego! Be careful!

I'm totally willing to put up with this little inconvenience. Why? Because I will finally be able to recover the treads of our wood steps in the beautiful Zapotec woven wool runner that I purchased years ago in Zihuatanejo Mexico. No more raggedy yucky indoor/outdoor carpeting! 

Monster Socks 
Knitting Content
Here are my latest pair of handknit Monster Socks using yarns donated by Leanne at knitting camp. One sock is complete and I'm still darning in the yarn tails on it's pair, but the knitting is done. These use a simple 1x1 stranded knitting technique for 2 rounds at each color change which give those little blips of color.

Although there has been nightly knitting while Jonesy and I watch our "Grey's Anatomy" DVD series, there isn't much to show for it. 1) Because one is a new sock pattern to be released next year, and 2) one is a surprise gift, and 3) I'm too hot to get out from behind the fans and climb up the ladder to take a photo of the big socks on the needles for the kids in Kazakhstan.

Tickled to my core
Gansey Style Sideways Mitts and Mittens
One of my patterns, Gansey Style Mitts and Mittens  was featured in the November 2012 Patternfish Newsletter! I'm so honored that they chose this as a recommended gift knit. These are knit flat with 2 needles in worsted weight yarn and feature a short-row shaped thumb gusset. Don't worry if you've never done short-rows because the pattern includes a series of photos and instructions to walk you through the process. Then, after seaming the sides, you can decide if you are content with mitts, or want to add the tops of the hands and thumbs (knit in the round) for warmer mittens.

Fair Isle Knit Holiday Ornaments
Then, last weekend Craftsy featured my Fair Isle Holiday Ornaments pattern set in their newsletter! These little 3 1/2" double-sided decorations are knit in fingering or sock weight yarn from the outside towards the center just like the last few rounds of a tam hat! Gee, I wonder where I got the idea for these.

More celebrations are in the works - including a bonzai trip to Tikal to welcome in the new Mayan era! Life is good.

Thursday, December 06, 2012


Belize and Back; The Legal Way

Kayaks at Paradise Resort Placentia, Belize
We're back in the Rio Dulce, Guatemala from our little 4-day jaunt to Belize to reset our 90-day tourist visas. Unlike the bonkers fugative John McAfee, we did stop at the immigration offices of both countries to have our visas stamped in and out of our passports. I guess that's why WE haven't been arrested here in Guatemala like he has. Of course the Rio here was all abuzz with sightings of this character. There's not much other drama to talk about so this was good chisme (pronounced cheeze-may = gossip).

Our trip took most of the day as there is no direct route to get from here to Belize. We consider just getting there as part of the adventure. In the early morning, we rode the launcha (fiberglass boat) from Mario's Marina here a mile upriver and were dropped off at the a dock in the little town of Rio Dulce. From there we picked up a collectivo (public van) for a ride to an intersection with another road to pick up yet another collectivo ($3 US each person for the 50 mile trip). Unfortunately, because  we were traveling during the morning go-to-work rush, these vans were more than over loaded with passengers - like 26 folks in a 14 passenger van. Jonesy ended up standing, bent over at the waist hovered over a couple of women for almost an hour. I "got" to sit on a little ledge holding my legs up so I wouldn't knock the people whose bodies were fully hanging out of the side door. They stood on the running board and hung onto the "oh-shit" bar conveniently installed in the headliner for their safety.
Jonesy at sea for the wet and wild ride to Belize

We gleefully disembarked the van in Puerto Barrios on the Caribbean coast and walked the 1/2 mile to the immigration office. As we dodged potholes and puddles we unkinked our joints and stretched our cramped muscles. The check-out process was pleasant and we got our passport stamps needed to prove that we left Guatemala before our previous visa expired. After a short walk to the pier and a half hour wait, we boarded the launcha - a larger fiberglass open speedboat - for the trip across the sea to Belize ($25 per person for the 35 mile, 1 1/2 hour trip). Dang. Just as we left a squall came up and we had big swells, breaking waves and rain for most of the trip. The boat company provided plastic tarps to hide under.

James Bus Line Belize
The check-in process in Punta Gorda, Belize was fast and uneventful (stamp #2 achieved proving that we really did go to another country). Unfortunately our boat had arrived later than usual and we had just missed the bus for the ride to Independence, Belize. The next bus was not for 2 hours. But wait! A kind shop owner phoned the bus driver and he stopped down the road and waited for us! We hustled along and climbed aboard. Gotta love small communities.

The bus trip was wonderful! The bus itself is an old Blue Bird, likely a used school bus. The road was smooth, and with open windows we enjoyed a balmy breeze as we traveled inland through the Toledo district of Belize ($4.50 per person for a 60 mile ride). We passed through beautiful jungles, savannahs, pine forests, and villages. Passengers got on and off all  along the way and passed cargo to the driver for delivery down the road.

Jonesy does the Hokey Pokey 
Too soon we arrived in the small town of Independence and had to leave the bus behind. As we didn't know how far it was to our next destination, we accepted a taxi ride ($3) to the Hokey Pokey Water Taxi docks. It was only about a quarter of a mile. Oh well, I guess we must have looked old and feeble to the driver or he needed the money. We certainly didn't look like tourists. I know this because the gal who sold us the tickets for the water taxi ride told us we didn't. She gave us the "local" price of $3 US per person and not the posted/tourist price of $5 per person to Placencia.

Hokey Pokey to Placencia Belize
Thankfully, the rain had stopped here and the sun was out for our fast trip through the mangroves to Placentia, our final destination. The small islands covered in mangroves inhibited any waves so  the water was smooth making the ride comfortable. It's been a long time since we were out in the coast waters and we both had big smiles on our faces.

Quickly we arrived in the little beach resort town of Placencia! Funky! This is one of the many places that fellow cruisers have told us about where they stop to provision for groceries and enjoy the occasional restaurant meal. Now we can understand why. It is a little slice of paradise.

Even though the grocery stores on this sand spit are rough around the edges, we found lots to like. There are freezers full of chicken and shelf stable products that we haven't found in Guatemala such as plain ole corn meal. I bought some for me and some to share with a cruiser friend back at Mario's Marina. Southern folks just gotta have their cornbread!

We walked down the beach until we found the Paradise Resort which had come recommended to us.  Good timing on our part, we arrived on the last day of the off-season rates so we got to enjoy the facilities for $59 US per night. Vacationers will think we are crazy, but we spent the first evening tucked into our room watching various movies on the many movie channels on the TV. For us, this is a real treat!
Placencia beach Belize
Excellent coffee with Helene, Placencia Belize

So what to do during our mandatory 72-hour stay outside of Guatemala? How about walking along the beach escorted by the friendly local dogs. In the mornings, the winds are calm so there are no waves. The afternoon winds kicked up the waves later so that this same beach wasn't "walkable" except up on dry sand.

No worries. By then we were already esconced on the veradna of a small coffee vendor - Helene. The smell of freshly baked cinnomon rolls was intoxicating. If I didn't have to live gluten-free I would have indulged, but it was just coffee - excellent coffee - for me. We spent a long leisurely time here listening to Helene share with us her life adventures in Belize.

Oh, and I knit. Lots and lots of sock knitting took place as we were on a leisurely pace. I finished a simple pair of rather big socks for the kids in Kazakhstan in yarn donated by Leanne M. from knitting camp. The yarn is Trekking (XXL).

Big socks
Monster Socks
Next up I started a pair of Monster Socks with this same yarn and some little odd balls of leftovers (also donated by Leanne). These are still a work in progress for the kids.

I'm working 2 rounds of 1x1 stranded color knitting between each change of yarns. This adds a little bit of visual interest without affecting the stretchiness of the finished sock.

No Diving Allowed Socks
And finally it is December and I can share with you the No Diving Allowed socks that I test knit for Linda Pahdoco and the Six Sox Knitalong Yahoo group. This fun slip-stitch design is the Dec/Jan sock for the group where the pattern is free for members. I love how the slip stitches toned down this wild self-patterning Trekking (XXL) yarn. Can you believe that the patterning did not repeat at all for a whole sock? That makes it way too difficult to try and make a matchy-match pair so I had to go with a fraternal twin pair for these socks. Again, the yarn had been donated by Leanne so these socks will be sent with the next batch to Kazakhstan with the Motherless Child Foundation.

Monster Socks
Inside out - ugh...yarn ends to darn
What? More socks? Yep. I finally finished darning in all the many, many little ends of yarn for these colorful monster socks made from leftover yarns. No, I'm not the only cruiser in Guatemala  who knits socks for the kids in the orphanages of Kazakhstan. There are more and here's a photo for proof!

Jackie and Jan knit for the kids in Kazakhstan
Last week, before Jackie (s/v Lively Lady) took off to sail north to Mexico, we got together at the Catamaran resort with Jan the mitten knitter (s/v Jocks Lodge). Jackie has knit many thick warm socks using worsted weight yarn held together with a sock yarn. Jan has been churning out thick mittens. I share some of my stash, plus some yarns that were donated to me and these wonderful ladies create warm woolies. Not only did we have a lovely afternoon by the pool, but we may have also enticed a couple of more knitters to join us!
Whoooo hooooo!

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