Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Things We Miss

Current Location: Finike, Turkey
Current Position: 36 17.63 N 30 08.98 E (View Map of Location)
Next Destination: Hanging here for the winter

We are just two weeks from stepping foot back into the US-of-A! It's been three years since we last visited home ... five weeks out of five years is all that we've spent in the States. Yes, we are due for a long visit home.

We are often asked "What do you miss most" - usually with the caveat, "besides friends and family". We have posted some thoughts on the matter on our SailBillabong FAQ page, but we thought it would be fun to expand on that a bit.

Food seems to be a big on our list:

This is one of those you always want what you can't have items. Since mid January we have been in Muslim countries ... our only "problem" with this is the lack of pork. It's strange because we don't eat a lot of pork normally, but not having the option there seems to get the taste buds going! Specifically we miss BACON! Oh my, all the things I could do with a package of bacon ... especially with all the fresh tomatoes and lettuce in the markets - just screaming to made into BLTs. My mouth waters just thinking of the smell wafting up from the frying pan. Yes, bacon will be top on the list.

In and Out Burger
All I can think is "In and Out, In and Out, that's what a hamburger is all about" (add in some nice jingly tunes)! Grilled onions, toasted bun, melted cheese - and heck we better throw in a chocolate shake since it has been so long!

Cheddar Cheese
Now, I'm not talking any kind of cheddar, no sir, I want some sharp, sharp, really flavorful stuff - none of that mild or fake crap!

Okay, I should be embarrassed that this is even on my list, but yes, I'm craving an Arby's Beef and Cheddar (hold the special sauce). Oh that neon squeeze cheese dripping off the sides - and some curly fries to boot. I should point out that Chris wants no part in my Beef and Cheddar - the thought, as he puts it, "is making me gag".

Ice Cream
Again, we have specific requirements. First we'd love some Ben and Jerry's. Picking a flavor is going to be tough, so we might have to go for multiple samples! The really hard thing is that they actually have B&J's here in Turkey, but at 12 bucks a tub it's just a big tease. The other ice cream we're both craving is some real vanilla bean ice cream - I'm talking quality stuff, where you can see the black bean bits throughout the ice cream.

Sushi Bar
No doubt we've eaten tons of sushi while cruising - thanks to Chris' ever improving fishing skills. And not to complain, but it's all been Tuna (which I love, and I'm sure you're not feeling sorry for me!). I wouldn't mind just a bit of variety. I can easily imagine myself sitting in our favorite Sushi restaurant in Ventura (I Love Sushi) and ordering one of everything. Prawns, salmon, tuna, scallops ... oh yum!

Well, that's a good starter list on the foods - we'll have to be careful not to gain 100 pounds! So far there are two shops on our list:
Trader Joe's (okay a food shop, so maybe it should be under foods) and Fry's Electronics. It's not that we need or want anything from Fry's, but it's such a HUGE store that we'd just like to get lost in it for a few hours and see where technology is going these days.

Finally there are some "ease of life" things that I miss (probably more so than Chris): washing machine, dishwasher, and English (as in the language).
I think the first two go without explanation - who doesn't want a washing machine and dishwasher??? As for English - first I'll say that I think it's pathetic I only speak one language - and yes, I should work on that. In every country we both try to pick up the language, but it's hard, especially if we are moving a lot. Turkish seems to be an especially difficult language for us, and though I'm trying I don't seem to be making much headway. There are times when I miss being in a country where English is the primary language. It just makes life easier when you can read labels, street signs, and instructions. Things can be accomplished faster when you don't have to play charades every time you are trying to communicate! It will be nice to understand everyone around me for a change!

I am sure this list will double or triple in size before we board our flight home - it's fun sitting around right now talking about all the things we are looking forward to. And, just so for the record, yes, the number one thing we miss is friends and family!

Continue reading "The Things We Miss"...

Friday, November 07, 2008

Ancient Cities and Flaming Mountains

Current Location: Finike, Turkey
Current Position: 36 17.63 N 30 08.98 E (llz=36.25887,29.98447,13)
Next Destination: Hanging here for the winter

On the same day we learned The Truth about Santa Claus, we also visited the ancient Roman city of Myra, Mount Chimaera, and Olympus.

The Myra/Demre area is a fertile agricultural area thanks to the good soil brought down by the mountain rivers. Prior to the tourism boom the local economy was very dependent on agriculture. Today you'll find the locals growing pomegranates and citrus trees as well as large quantities of fruits and vegetables in green houses. The ancient Lycians didn't want to take up the precious land with burying of the dead, so instead wealthy Lycians had stonemasons carve tombs for them from the limestone walls of the mountains. Today the tombs have all been broken into and robbed, but they are still an impressive sight. And at the base of these rock-cut tombs stand the remains of an ancient Roman theatre. If you're a history buff you can get more information about the Myra/Demre area on Wikipedia.

Myra Turkey

It was then a couple of hours driving away from the coast, up into the mountains to get to Mount Chimaera. But before venturing to climb up the fiery mountain we stopped for lunch at a trout farm. We were served endless amounts of hot pide bread with dips and cheeses, followed by seasonal salads, and finished with fresh trout baked whole in a clay dish over a fire. Ahh, I'm drooling just thinking back!

In Greek Mythology the Chimera is a three-animal beast with the head of a lion, tale of a serpent, and goat in the middle, who breathes fire and was thought to be indestructible. Then along came the hero Bellerophan who was sent by the King of Lycia to kill the chimera (the king was trying, in a round about way, to kill Bellerophan). As it turns out Bellerophan succeeded in slaying the beast thanks to the winged horse, Pegasus, who flew Bellerophon high above the chimera, away from its fiery breath, and shot the creature full of arrows until it died.

Some, however, say that the chimera was not a beast but rather refers to the mountain, as Mount Chimaera "was on fire here, had lions and goats there, and was full of snakes over there". And since it was Bellerophon who made this habitable, he is therefore said to have "killed Chimaera"

Mount Chimaera (called in Turkish Yanartaş (flaming rock)) consists of nearly two dozen vents in the ground. The vents emit burning methane, which in ancient times sailors could navigate by.

Not far from Mount Chimaera lies the the ancient city of Olympus. This was quite a site, with ruins upon ruins to walk among. The city was founded during the Hellenistic period. According to Homer, it was from these mountains that the god Poseidon saw Odysseus sailing from Calypso's island and called up a huge storm that wrecked Odysseus on the island of Nausicaa.

One interesting tid-bit we learned from our guide was that the top of a fisherman's sarcophagus was shaped like the keel of a boat so that in the afterlife the inhabitant could flip the lid over and survive as a fisherman in the underworld (see the photo in the slideshow below for example).

As you can see it was a fantastic day, full of history & mythology. We look forward to our next Turkey adventure.

Continue reading "Ancient Cities and Flaming Mountains"...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Truth about Santa Claus

Current Location: Finike, Turkey
Current Position: 36 17.63 N 30 08.98 E
Next Destination: Hanging here for the winter

With Christmas just around the corner I thought it was time for the truth to be known. First, Santa Claus is real - and he's from Turkey. Now, I grew up thinking good 'ol Saint Nick was from the North Pole. This jolly ol' guy wore thick red suits to stay warm and his cheeks were always rosy from the chill (or maybe the spiced hot chocolate). So imagine my surprise when I learned that all these years I had been lied to ... Santa Claus isn't from the North Pole, no sir, he's from right here in Turkey, about an hour drive from Finike - in the town of Myra (today known also as Demre)!

We had the pleasure of visiting Saint Nicholas' Church in Demre / Myra a few weeks ago. Unfortunately it was closed for the end of Ramadan (Muslim holiday), but we did get a chance to wander around the area and learn about the history of Santa Claus.
Saint Nick

It all starts with Saint Nicholas - a 4th-century Greek Christian bishop of Myra. There are a couple of versions of how the gift-giving began but they are all centered around giving to others and helping the less fortunate. The story we heard (from our well informed guide) was that it started with Nicholas helping three impoverished daughters - providing them with dowries so that they could marry and not be sold into slavery or prostitution. As our guide tells it the first two daughters he helped by placing bags of gold through an open window (in the summer), but when it came time to help the third daughter it was winter so the window was closed. Nicholas therefore climbed up the roof and dropped the bag down the chimney, where, it so happens, the daughter's stockings were hanging to dry, and wouldn't you know it, the bag of gold fell right into the stocking!

Throughout his life Saint Nicholas was known for trying to help others and inspire good virtue. As legends of his unselfishness spread, the accounts of his deeds blended with regional folklore and eventually he was transformed into an almost mystical being who was known for rewarding the good and punishing the bad. He also became a patron saint to many children, orphans, and sailors who prayed for his compassion, guidance, and protection. His death (December 6th) was marked by an annual feast. On the eve before, children would set out food (for St Nicholas), straw (for the horses), and schnapps (for his attendants). The next morning, assuming they were "good" children, they would find their gifts replaced with sweets and toys.

From there Santa Claus, as we know him today, developed from many religious, cultural, and even commercial influences. Americans have the Dutch immigrants of the 1600's to thank for Santa Claus, originally introduced as Sinterklaas (meaning Saint Nicholas).

So why then does Santa Claus live in the North Pole? I mean where would you rather live - Turkey or some freezing, uninhabited, middle of nowhere place like the North Pole? And what about that red suit, the flying reindeer, and such? Most of these details come from creative writers and some commercialization. It starts around 1808 with the American author Washington Irving who wrote of an old St Nick riding over treetops in a horse drawn wagon, dropping gifts down chimneys. Irving also described Santa as a jolly Dutchman smoking a long stemmed pipe and wearing baggy breaches. In 1822 Dr Clement Clarke Moore, in "The Night Before Christmas", substituted eight reindeer and a sleigh for Irving's horse and Wagon - giving St Nick a more arctic background. Moore also gave Santa his broad face and round belly. Then in 1863, when Thomas Nast illustrated Moore's book of children's poems, he depicted a softer Santa dressed in red. In additional it was Nast that gave Santa a home - the North Pole. And finally we can thank artist Haddon Sundblom and Coca-Cola (in 1931) for adding the final touches to Santa's modern image. Sundblom's billboards for Coca-Cola featured a portly, jolly, grandfatherly-type Santa with rosy cheeks and a twinkle in his eye.

The terrific thing about Santa Claus is that he incorporates so many beleifs and traditions from around the world. And even though much of Santa may have come from the imaginations of writers, artists, and advertisers, the underlying truth of Santa is hard not to appreciate. Who doesn't like a man that represents goodness and kindness and attempts to help those around him in need? So from Billabong we wish you all a Happy St Nicholas Day!

Continue reading "The Truth about Santa Claus"...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Lycian Way

Current Location: Finike, Turkey
Current Position: 36 17.63 N 30 08.98 E
Next Destination: Hanging here for the winter

The Lycian Way is the first waymarked long distance footpath in Turkey. It stretches from Fethiye to Antalya, through the Teke Peninsula (historically known as Lycia). The Lycian Way is not only scenic (traveling along the coastline as well as high into the cliffs through largely uninhabited areas), but it also offers an opportunity to see the lingering of ancient civilizations. Swimming. Views. Nature. History. The Lycian Way has it all and was, in fact, named one of the Sunday Times World’s Ten Best Walks.

Given that the Lycian Way comes right through Finike, how could we not walk at least part of this trail? The entire trail is more than 500km and can take weeks to complete. We, along with four friends, decided it would be a grand idea to do a day hike, hopefully making it from Finike to Belos and back. Of course, since we notoriously tend to end up doing things the hard way, the area of the trail we would be walking is deemed one of the most difficult!!!
Lycian Way

At least twice we had looked for the start of the walk in Finike, and while we now thought we had a pretty good idea where it was (based on the book "The Lycian Way", and Google Earth), the last thing we wanted was to start our hike out "lost". So, odd as it may sound, we took a taxi to the trail. Much of the trail in the Finike area has been bulldozed into somewhat of a rocky tractor road; one can still get onto the original trail in places (walking more in the forest then the cleared rocky road). We started in the forest, and opted to climb up to the road when we lost site of the waymarks. Luckily it was early morning and no longer summer, because it didn’t take long before the steep incline had us all sweating, and huffing and puffing.

The great thing for us, all cruisers, about this part of the hike was that although the incline was difficult it brought us into the mountains, and eventually along the ridgeline. I hadn’t realized just how much I missed the mountains – it was great to get away from the sea for a few hours.

The first 4 km brought us up to about 650 meters. Along the way we came across a large herd of beautiful goats and a shepherd. We also came upon a field of ancient walls and Lycian tombs.

Another hour and half or so brought us to the ridgeline and magnificent views looking out over the town of Demre with views of Kekova Island in the background. We stopped for lunch, enjoying the peace and quiet and terrific scenery, before heading up, along the ridge, to Belos.

We couldn’t have asked for better weather. The sun was out and not a cloud in the sky, yet the air was cool enough to not wear us out. We’d thought that we’d be dealing with a lot of wind – especially in Belos, which is about 910 meters above sea level, but it was still as could be. Belos is an ancient town littered with ruins and huge sarcophagi. Rooms and walls still stand complete, and everything seemed even more spectacular with the views of Kekova as the backdrop. We spent a leisurely amount of time walking around the ancient town, guessing as to what might have been what and trying to imagine life thousands of years ago. What we especially were in awe of was how they managed to live so high in the mountains – here we had only walked a portion of the trail, with light packs, and were feeling our exhaustion – these people had moved, carrying everything they owned, old and young, and not wearing fancy hiking boots! It was a perfect spot for protection, with stonewalls to protect them and the long distance from the sea to discourage pirates.

It was very cool to have Belos to our own. The ruins of Myra and Demre, which we had visited a few weeks earlier, were brilliant, but there is something to be said for the quiet solitude in walking amongst the ancient city, undisturbed by the masses.

On the way back we had planned on a little side trek to Dinek, but the markings weren’t clear to us, and knowing we still had a long walk back to Finike ahead we didn’t want to wonder "aimlessly" … maybe another day!

I seem to never give downhill trekking the credit it is due. The entire way up all I could think was "at least coming back will be downhill". But it doesn’t take long, especially on steep terrain with loose stones that are uncomfortable to walk on, before I began to wonder if going up wasn’t better! People think that cruising keeps us in shape, but in truth we live pretty sedentary lives – maybe not compared to the average land-lubber American, but in terms of tackling a mountainous 20-24 km day hike, we are in sad shape! It seemed that the last bit of the return trip just kept going and going and going. But at last we were back in Finike – where our first stop was the beer garden just outside the marina!

It was a fantastic day, well worth the effort and the soreness that followed over the next few days. We are hopefully that we can do another section of the Lycian Way next spring when we start cruising again … maybe we ought to start exercising now!

Continue reading "The Lycian Way"...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Greece Day Trip

Current Location: Finike, Turkey
Current Position: 36 17.63 N 30 08.98 E
Next Destination: Hanging here for the winter

It kind of cracks us up because everybody keeps asking us what we're doing. Why aren't we moving? Unless you've "been there, done that" it is hard to explain to people that we are worn out. Yeah, I know you're thinking "worn out from an endless vacation?" But really, imagine nearly 12,000 miles in 14 months. Imagine traveling a fourth of those miles with 100+ other boats (think crowded, think loud, think endless activities - although fun, kind of hectic). Imagine about half of those miles to weather – yep, right on the nose; pound-pound-pound. Imagine lightning storms, torrential downpours, the boat flooding, and whiteout sand storms. Tired yet? Because I could go on? Don't get me wrong, we loved our last year - it was exotic, it was different, and it was heaps of fun; we will always be happy with our decision to join the Indonesian Rally and continue on through the Red Sea. However, when we arrived in Finike we were relieved. It feels so good to be staying in one place, to no longer worry about the weather, no longer worry about how many more miles we need to make and in what time period. For now we are just happy to "be". And Finike is the perfect town for some time off. It is small and cute, friendly, and not overrun by tourists. The perfect mix of just about everything; its the size of town I can imagine living in when we move back home. Also, since Finike is where we plan on keeping the boat over the winter it was more economical to take out a year contract with the marina. And so we have a home; a non-moving, relaxing, quiet home, where we know the butcher and the baker, have a cherry guy, a tomato guy and a peach guy, where the boys that serve the ultra-cold beers know that I like a bowl of ice with my Sprite, and the lady at one of the market stalls knows how I like my avocados. Sure, they don't speak English, and I don't speak Turkish, but it feels good to be recognized.
Greece Day Trip
For those who think we really ought to be doing something in addition to "being", you'll be happy to know we did, finally, get out of Finike. Our Turkey visas are only good for 90 days, so at some point we were required to leave the country. The good news is Billabong can stay, and there is no time requirement for how long you have to be out of the country. With all the Greek islands nearby getting out of the country is quite simple.

We hooked up with friends from S/Y Swanya for a day trip to Kastelorizo, Greece. It was one of those perfect days. Not because any one thing was spectacular, but rather that every detail of the day was terrific. Furthermore, we barely had to lift a finger all day – everything was done for us.

First we caught the local bus from Finike to Kas. It's about a two-hour bus ride. Very scenic and the bus is air-conditioned, even better it's cheap. With someone else doing the driving we could all sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. Next we hooked up with the ferry from Kas to Kastelorizo. This is where we were really pampered. We handed over our passports and some Euros and they took care of the rest. No walking miles in search of the right offices or waiting hours for a stamp. We had an hour before the ferry departed so we walked around the town of Kas. It's another small town, and very pleasant to poke around (although it is slightly more touristic than Finike). The ferry ride was another bout of pampering. We laid back under the awning while other people handled the dock lines, steered the boat, and anchored at the other end. We didn't have to look out for other boats, didn't have to think about the weather, didn't have to worry about anchoring – oh man it was so fantastic to be on somebody else's boat and not have a worry or care in the world!

Kasteloriz is the smallest island of the Dodecanese (group of 162 Greek islands in the Aegean Sea). It is roughly 5 square miles and has a whopping population of roughly 300! The harbor we entered was lined with slender buildings with wooden balconies and colorful trim. As cruisers are always one to get their money's worth we asked the ferry operator if we could stay a couple of extra hours (after all we'd come this far, might as well do a bit of exploring). We started with a walk along the waterfront, taking in the shops and restaurants and hunting for Gyros. Over the last week I'd been dreaming about Gyros. I'd even taken the time to make sure I knew the correct Greek pronunciation (versus the butchered American version). I was ready, and couldn't stop talking about them. I should have remembered though that (a) Greeks and Europeans tend to eater later in the day and (b) Gyros, like the Arabic Shwarmas, aren't served until late in the afternoon or evening. Gyros are a kind of meat roasted on a vertical rotisserie – you can get lamb, pork, or chicken (depending on where you are), but they don't tend to fire up the rotisseries until at least 3:00/4:00 pm. It was a huge bummer – and the only disappointment of the day. Instead of gyros we ate at a little waterfront café (as if we don't get to see enough water – but hey, habits die hard). It was an idyllic lunch; slow and relaxed, good food, good wine, good view and good company.

After lunch we ventured out for a walk and found a stairway path that went up the side of the mountain and provided terrific views over the harbor. We weren't all as energetic as Kimberly (who went to the top); Chris & Mark sat at the first shady spot and I only ventured as far as required for a good photo!

Having come to another country, we couldn't miss out on the duty free opportunities. Of course, without Billabong we were limited to 1 L per person, but it's better than nothing!

Then, as if we hadn't been gluttonous enough at lunch, we decided we needed coffees. But not just your ordinary coffees, nope, we went for ice-cream coffees! Stuffed like pigs and tired from the uphill walk and hot sun we bordered the ferry and lounged our way back to Turkey. By the time we got our passports back, waited for the next bus to Finike, and rode along for two hours, it was, surprise-surprise, dinnertime! After such a luxurious day, why spoil it cooking for ourselves and having to do dishes. We went for cold beers and pide; the perfect end to a perfect day!

Continue reading "Greece Day Trip"...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The World Traveler

Current Location: Finike, Turkey
Current Position: 36 17.63 N 30 08.98 E
Next Destination: SW Turkey Coast

Back in May I wrote a BLOG about the downside of some countries, in particular Egypt. I gave the Egyptians a pretty hard time, and now I feel it's only fair to take a look at the other side of the coin; the tourists. Just as Chris and I were disappointed in the attitudes and tactics of most of the Egyptian vendors, we both found ourselves continuously shaking our heads at the actions of tourists. This has occurred since we began cruising and is not limited to Egypt tourists, but Egypt is a good place to start.

It doesn't take much to research a country you are going to; between guidebooks, such as the Lonely Planet, and the Internet, it only takes minutes to gather a few basic facts about a country. Egypt is 90% Muslim; that fact alone should give tourists a clue, but if it doesn't there is more. Lonely Planet states “...revealing tops or bottoms are unacceptable almost everywhere except on tourist-only beaches”. And goes on to specifically warn women travelers that they should dress conservatively, and that European women are seen to have “tantalizingly loose morals when compared with Egyptian women”. For this BLOG I went a step further and ran a few Google searches on “dress and attire in Egypt”. Not surprisingly, most discussions told women to cover their thighs, neckline, and shoulders. So why then were 90% of the women tourist that we saw in Egypt wearing short-short skirts or shorts and skimpy tank tops? There is no doubt that it is very hot in Egypt, and I'll be the first to admit that as we walked through the Egyptian towns I longed for my shorts. But it was not unbearable, and as a tourist it is probably one of the easiest ways to show a little respect, and to gain some back in return.

I recently read a travel discussion thread where a woman was asking what she should wear in her upcoming visit to Egypt. I was disappointed to read one of the responses:

“I posted a similar thread a month ago and the general consensus given was similar to the above ie outside the confines of the hotel cover shoulders, arms and legs and even to go as far as a scarf for the head. Having just returned all I can say is bull. Wearing short skirts, shorts, tee shirts etc you will get no more attention or hassle from the locals than if you're totally covered from head to foot. 99 percent of the females we saw were dressed as such and never received any derogatory remarks at all. You get the hassle not for what you're wearing but because you're a tourist, full stop. Don't go over the top but wear what YOU feel comfortable with and enjoy your trip.”

Luckily most of the other replies gave this guy a hard time, telling him that he was wrong, and that it was disrespectful to the local customs. To which he replied:

"I'm not trying to show lack of respect or a disdain for the local culture but just reporting it as it was. We took advice from locals and not once were we shown any hostilities or were offending anyone on the contrary we were shown nothing but friendliness from everyone we met. Wake up even most Egyptians realize we are now in the 21st century."

Now, having just spent more than 3 months in Egypt let me tell you what I saw. True, a headscarf is overkill; most Egyptians who see a westerner in a headscarf wonder “why” and sometimes have even been known to think that they are being mocked. It is also true that the men will harass a western woman whether she is covered from neck to toe or showing endless amounts of skin. In addition, if you are traveling with a large tour group, with lots of inappropriately dressed women, then you just kind of blend in and no one will harass you individually. But what this guy did not see (but would've if he'd taken the time to watch things “behind the scenes”) were the faces and reactions that occurred behind the backs of such dressed women. I saw Egyptian men look at each other and make kissing motions and point as a skimpily dressed women passed. I saw local women laugh at & mock western women. There were looks of disgust and even some photograph taking, as if to later show their families, "can you believe these women". It wasn't even that these visiting women were wearing something slightly inappropriate (like long shorts instead of pants), we saw a number of women wearing skirts so short that, as Chris likes to say, "if they farted we’d see their panties".

I have heard other comments similar to "we are now in the 21st century". Such as "well, I’m [insert nationality] and this is how we dress, so why change?" I have even heard the extremely naive statements of; "it’s good for them to see other cultures" and "what about women’s rights?" I always wonder what drives people to travel. I assume there is some interest in the culture and customs of other countries, and if that is true than why wouldn't a traveler heed to some of the more basic customs out of respect? And if it is not true, if there is no interest what so ever, then why leave one's own country? Why not stay home, in the comforts of their own cultural bubble where they can continue to live exactly how they want without consideration for others? Good friends of ours once made a similar comment and after debating the matter for a good hour, Chris and I left it with a wedding analogy. If you were invited to someone's wedding, and hated wearing suits, would you still arrive in shorts and a t-shirt even though the invitation said "formal attire"? Probably not, out of respect for the couple you would "suffer" through the event with your neck choked uncomfortably in a tie. Shouldn't we offer the same respect to the people of whose countries we visit? As for women's rights, I think if we want to assist in these matters we should focus on respect and education and not clothing … as a matter of fact, speaking to many of these local women we learned that they don’t mind covering up, many truly believe it is the right way to live and dress, they just want more "say" in things.

As I mentioned at the start, Egypt is just one country in many where we have seen such behavior. Kiribati was one of our favorite stops to date. The people were full of joy and laughter and the atolls were beautiful. Due to its isolation and location not many tourists make it to Kiribati, especially to the outer islands. So it saddened us deeply when we heard that the government was “closing down” the outer atolls to yachts. Why? Two separate occurrences. The first was when a woman went ashore in her bikini. She was respectfully asked to cover up by the locals, but refused, with the same idiotic thinking of “this is what I wear, why should I change for you”. The second occurrence was two young men who invited a couple of the local girls out to their yacht and served them alcohol. How could they be so stupid to think the village would not be offended and, rightly so, a bit irate? It bothered us even more that these were fellow cruisers.

Chris has often referred to us as “World Travelers” rather than tourists. I laugh whenever he says it, it sounds so snobbish, but I do understand his meaning. You don't have to be a cruiser to be a world traveler, you don't even have to travel a lot - rather it is a state of mind when you do travel. A “world traveler” is looking to understand and embrace a world that is different than the one they have come from. When we travel to places we are not just looking to do a bit of site seeing, but hoping to also get an inside picture of how people live and why they do what they do. We want to be invited into their lives and we want to invite them into ours. The only way to accomplish this is with some respect in their beliefs. There is no question that locals are more open, more sharing, and more responsive when they see you trying to be respectful. What we have sadly found is that most (not all) short-term vacationing tourist care little about their surroundings (outside of the attractions), or if they do they show it poorly. They aren't out to bond with a culture, but rather are merely looking for some relaxation and entertainment. The end result is a lack of awareness of what's occurring around them. In general we've found that most cruisers and long-term travelers however do care. So when another cruiser, someone we feel a common bond with, goes off and does such an inane thing, we are instantly ashamed and embarrassed because it reflects badly on the whole lot of us. (And, by the way, I'm not saying that short-term vacationers and long-term travelers alike shouldn't want relaxation and entertainment; I'm just saying that I believe we can have both these things yet still be aware and respectful of the culture around us).

I'm harping on attire because it is the most obvious and blatant transgression of tourists. But in the last month there has been another behavior that really chaps me. Photography. And it is in this that even cruisers, even dear friends of mine, seem to blatantly ignore all sense. In the Arabic world (Yemen, Oman, Sudan, Egypt, etc), photography is a touchy subject. There are some who don't mind at all, but many more who absolutely do not like having their photo taken. Every cruising and land guidebook we own states something to the effect of, “many find it offensive, so ask permission first”. The number of times I've seen someone shoot a photograph of a local, who in turn is frowning or raising their hand to cover their face is unbelievable. How can these photo-takers not realize the defensive, non-appreciative, reactions? Chris and I are both avid photographers and we both LOVE capturing the people. We have "missed" many fine photo opportunities because we have politely asked to take a photo and been politely denied. I’ll admit I get jealous when I see others just blindly snapping away, and later talking about "this photo I got" … I too want that photo, but NOT at the cost of offending the very people I am trying to bond with.

I still remember a time when one Indonesian lady muttered something like, “I’m not in a zoo” to a bunch of cruisers who had gathered around and were feverishly snapping photographs. I wanted to apologize on the behalf of all of us, but the words failed me. The tables were also a bit turned at one of our stops in Indonesia. A local asked if they could take MY photo. I said yes. It took her a while to get things working, and before I knew it a number of locals were standing around asking if they too could take my photo … I felt more than a bit self-conscious and extremely odd. This was a good experience though, as it confirmed for me what some of these locals must feel like when swarmed upon. Chris and I are now even more conscious of getting out our camera when around other travelers who are also taking photographs. Many times if we are traveling with other tourists and cruisers, and if it seems like the “fight for the photo” is getting a bit insane, we’ll simply put our camera away and do not join the masses. Or if we are traveling in a smaller group, we’ll make an agreement early on to swap photos later; we figure even if asked and accepted, a local is not expecting five cameras in his face when he agrees to a single photograph.

It seems that tourists and cruisers both are at their worst when they travel in large groups. These groups take over a site or town like a bunch of locusts bearing down on a crop. The larger the group the louder and more vulgar they seem to be, and the less aware they are of anything outside the secure world of that group. Many tourists, especially those in groups, aren’t just ignorant of the culture that surrounds them, but they seem to be clueless of everything around them – including other tourists. How many times have Chris or I lined up a shot of some monument only to have someone move to stand right in front of us? And God-forbid I stand in line without breathing down the neck of the person in front of me, else some other tourist just steps right in, essentially cutting in line. Oh, and then there are the tourists who walk down a street or sidewalk in a row of four or more – causing everyone around them to have to move out of their way, all so that they can continue to carry on a loud conversation.

Finally, I must say something about the family tourist … those traveling with children. Let me start by saying that I adore children, I, in fact would like to someday have many of my own. Also, as someone who does not yet have children, I am clueless to the trials that come with raising a child. I understand it is difficult, tiring, time consuming, and far from easy, but obviously I am not in the situation to judge anyone’s parenting habits. However I do believe that if one chooses to travel with their children (and I do think people should) that then there are a few basic common decencies that should be practiced. For example I don’t think it is appropriate that parents ignore their children while they run around like banshees at a group tourist dinner, screaming and yelling while a well-respected local gives a welcome speech. And I’m appalled when I see parents idly standing by while their children climb over 4,000 year old statues of sphinxes, right next to a sign that says “do not touch”. Then again I must’ve seen at least a dozen tourists touch statues and relics inside the museum, all with signs stating “please do not touch”. So if the adults can’t “behave” then why should the children? And I wonder what habits the children are learning when their mothers walk around half naked in a country where shoulders and thighs are considered risqué? Obviously the next generation of tourists will be just as bad, if not worse then the current bunch.

In this BLOG I have made quite a few blanket statements about tourists, travelers, and cruisers. Obviously not everyone is an unaware traveler. There are a number of fine folks who do attempt to adhere to a country’s customs and who are aware of their surroundings - and obviously Chris and I are not perfect, I’m sure we’ve made a number faux pas along the way - all I’m saying is that I believe we should all try, and when I see tourists walking around with such blatant disrespect, especially when it might be as simple and easy as wearing pants over shorts, it disturbs me to the core.

And so the Egyptian vendors may not be ideal, but nor are the people buying their wares! Maybe, in the end, it all evens out … but how about the next time you are about to step out of your hotel in whatever makes YOU comfortable, think about how uncomfortable you would be if a man from Vanuatu showed up at your wedding in his formal dress; a penis sheath ... and nothing else!

Continue reading "The World Traveler"...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

How It Began

Current Location: Finike, Turkey
Current Position: 36 17.63 N 30 08.98 E
Next Destination: Turkey Coast (between Finike & Marmaris)

With Billabong now on the market, and our cruising days coming to a potential end, I can't help but think back to how it all began. It seems to me that I spend a large part of my life being swept along and carried down some path, often wondering just how I managed to get there. Events transpire quickly and move of their own accord. I'd like to take credit because I believe I've had a pretty great life, but in reality it's just a giant snowball that gains momentum and carries me along … and usually it all begins with me opening my big mouth!

It goes without saying that Chris and I would not be out here together had we never met. But while some things in my life happen at record paces, there are others that move so slow it's a wonder they ever happen at all. I have known Chris since I was 16 (and Chris was 23). We met at work in 1990 (I was answering phones after high-school and Chris was working as a software developer). A seven-year age difference may not matter now, but when one is an under-aged teenager and the other is a college graduate it is certainly not something to be ignored. I was always more like a little sister then a possible romantic interest. Over the years we became good friends, but our lives were always running in different directions, such as a few wild years in college for me and marriage for Chris. It was 11 years later when we finally managed our first date.

The year 2001 brought about a lot of changes for both of us. By the end of the year I had ended a seriously relationship, Chris had separated from his wife, our company had gone through yet another merger, which resulted in a number of layoffs & work-environment changes, a really good sailing friend of Chris’ died unexpectedly in a helicopter crash, and of course there was “911”. It goes without saying that September 11th is a date that impacted the majority of Americans (and maybe even many non-Americans). For many, like myself, it was a wake-up call that life could be unexpectedly short, and every moment did indeed count. At that point in time my entire life had been centered around work-work-work, and I now wondered if that was the right way to live. Surely there was more to life than 10 hours in a fluorescently lit office everyday?

And so began the snowball … two people who have been friends for 11 years, now single, and realizing they wanted more in life; that and a Harry Potter movie. Who would’ve thought that two friends checking out the latest flick would end up sailing through the world together? Harry Potter turned into a date, a pretty unromantic one, but one none-the-less. And that date turned into a relationship. It may have taken us more than a decade to “get together”, but after that things moved along pretty quick; after all we’d known each for so long there wasn’t much else to learn … well ‘er, maybe some things but I’m not talking about THAT!

When I first met Chris he was living aboard a small yacht. Throughout the years he continued his interests in yachts & sailing, and more than once I had heard him say, “wouldn’t it be neat to go cruising … to travel the world with your ‘house’?” As an Arizona girl I didn’t really see what was so exciting about that – okay, not working and lots of traveling; I could get into that ... but on a boat??? And those yachts seemed pretty dang small. Then one day, Chris says it again, “I’d love to just leave and go cruising in my own yacht.” Without thinking I opened by big mouth and responded, “You should just stop talking about it and go already … and take me with you!” Ha ha ha ha. I got a good chuckle out of that one. Chris kind of gave me this look and said, “Yeah, that’s a good idea”. I didn’t pay him any mind, because it just seemed too far-fetched, too unrealistic. But then, about two months later came my birthday. Chris is big on “themes”, and the theme this year definitely made its point: polarized sunglasses, “How to Sail for Dummies”, a big floppy hat, sunscreen, tropical scented candles, and so on. I probably stayed in denial, thinking we would never be able to pull it off, until we purchased Billabong about six months later. At that point it was pretty clear that this was not a just some crazy pipe dream.

Getting ready for a world cruise is, in itself, a huge task. I had the added challenge that I knew nothing about boating, yachts, or sailing. For me a ‘sheet’ belonged on a bed and I could never grasp why the various lines and such weren’t just called ‘ropes’. It seemed even the simply things became complicated – provisioning, health vaccinations, visas, passports … it was an endless lists of things to research and I had thousands of things to learn. To top it all off we were still working (building up that cruising kitty), and I was carrying twins. WHOA … hold the phone, I had better back up a bit.

There was a parallel set of events, another one of those snowballs sweeping me away, which were occurring during the time I was joking with Chris about sailing around the world. It began with a simple statement to my sister “You know I would consider being a surrogate for you”. Long story short they were having a difficult time and things were not looking up. The first time I offered it was pretty much passed over; my sister didn’t feel she could ever ask something like that of me. A few months later my sister asked me if I was serious. I told her I was and we spent the weekend discussing what it would be like. At that point my sister still felt it was too much to ask, as she said, “It’s like borrowing a new shirt” … in other words I hadn’t even had my own kids yet, so how could I have hers? When it became clear to me that Chris & I were really going to take off for years unknown I told my sister, “You know if I’m not pregnant by the end of this year [2002] I won’t be able to do this for you”. My sister gave it another go with her fertility doctor, which ended sadly when the doctor told her “it’s time you considered other options”. After that things traveled at warp speed … one minute I was sitting in a business meeting in Sweden, the next minute I was reading an email from my sister saying we could start after the end of my next period … and before I knew it I was shot up with hormones, had what felt like endless doctor appointments, and BAM, October 2002 I was pregnant – with twins! I could write a book about the surrogacy process, my pregnancy, and so on, but rather then get into all that right now I’ll just say it was a fantastic time, and everything went unbelievably smooth.

So I was ‘knocked-up’ in October and in November we moved aboard Billabong. There is a lot of fun to be had when you have two such crazy and unique events going on in your life simultaneously. Imagine people’s surprise as my belly grew, yet our plans for a November departure remained. When it became undoubtedly obvious that I was pregnant the conversions would go something like this:

Unaware person:Soooo, you’re going cruising?” [glance down at my belly]

Me: “Yep,” [long pause for dramatic effect] “we’re leaving this November

Unaware person: [glance at my belly, glance at me, glance at my belly] “November huh?”

Me: “Yep

Unaware person: “So are you, uh, ummm, like, uh” [long pause as they decide if they really want to ask this] “pregnant?”

Me: “Yep” [pause] with twins [internal laugh as I see their eyes bug out]

Me: [because I can’t resist seeing their reaction] They are due in June

At this point the conversation usually stalls out as the person does the math. June, July, August, September, October … five months. FIVE MONTHS … are these guys crazy; they’re going to have twins and leave to go cruising only FIVE MONTHS LATER???? Chris and I kind of liked seeing what they’d say next, usually it was just a bunch of muttering, but we weren’t too mean, we’d always fill them on the surrogacy sooner or later, and usually when the story was done they say something like, “Thank God, I’d thought you’d lost your mind!

Probably our most fun was had with an unsuspecting garage-sale shopper. Chris and I decided to have a huge garage sale when I moved out of my apartment as we figured most the stuff we owned wasn’t worth the storage payment. When I posted the ad for the sale I wanted to make sure people knew this wasn’t a “get rid of junk” sale, but rather there was some good stuff to be had, so my ad stated that we were moving onto a small yacht and leaving, and therefore “everything had to go”. By the time we had the sale it was impossible to miss that I was quite pregnant. One buyer arrived and first thing started asking about what we were doing on a yacht and where we were going to go sailing and where we were going to live, etc etc. When he realized that we were going to cruise offshore and head across the South Pacific to islands unknown he got the look. By now we were quite used to it, and found it hugely entertaining. I think most people would give any two soon-to-be cruisers the look regardless (as most land-lubbers think we’re all crazy), but throw in a huge belly and you really get them going! I guess this garage-sale-shopper didn’t want to be too rude or nosey, at least not all at once, so he would come around and ask the price of something and then a few questions about our plans. Then he would skitter off and continue to browse, before returning a few minutes later with more questions. The entire time he could barely take his eyes off me (or my belly rather). Finally he felt comfortable enough to ask if I was pregnant, to which I replied “yes”. As usual I didn’t elaborate (I know Chris and I are evil, but it was just too fun). Next he told Chris, “Congratulations! Chris, who is more evil than me, responded with, “they aren’t mine!” and walked away to help another shopper. I almost lost it [with laughter] when I saw this guy’s jaw drop, but I also felt a little pity for him, as he was surely about to blow a brain fuse from trying to figure it all out … not to mention the poor guy had been hanging around for over an hour. So after letting a few minutes pass I went over and gave him the entire scoop. Unsurprising, he was much relieved at finally being able to put all the pieces together!

Yachts, at least Billabong, are not known for having copious amounts of space. So it didn’t take long before I seemed to fill our entire salon. Towards the end I even had to cook sideways, as both my belly and me couldn’t fit into the u-shape where the galley stove is! More than once Chris commented, “I hope I won’t have to unglue the dodger for the crane lift”, yeah, he’s real funny like that! But it also got me out of a lot of boat work – it’s not like I was very limber or could squeeze into small spaces. I wasn’t the least bit upset when I couldn’t help Chris take apart and clean the head hoses. As I did my pregnancy Yoga I said to him, “Gee honey I’d love to help but I just don’t think I can get in there!” Chris never forgets how he could hear the DVD saying, “now take a deep breath and relax”, over and over, while he’s drenched in old piss and slime, sweating away in the head!

Chris and I have a lot of fun (somewhat jokester) memories from the surrogacy, especially with how it effected our preparations and living aboard. But one thing is for sure; it also strengthened our relationship. Chris was there for me, every step of the way. The procedure started with hormone treatments that basically put me into menopause (yes, hot flashes and all), and ended with full-blown post-pregnancy hormones. Chris always said it was like seeing 70 years of his life with me! We both thought the other was amazing, and we found that even when hormones were askew we could work through just about anything.

So it was all great really; Chris was making grand progress in getting Billabong ready, and I was organizing our lives into spreadsheets (seems one of my pregnancy hormones LOVED Excel). Everything was passing by in a flurry of events and we were indeed looking ready to go. Except for one minor detail … I still didn’t know how to sail. We had grand plans in the beginning for taking Billabong out, but work and boat projects kept us too busy, and then eventually I was just too big. No problem we thought, we’ll go out during my maternity leave, but after the birth I was too anemic and “not even allowed to vacuum” (as stated by my doctor). We did finally get Billabong out for some sea trials; two weekends in the Channel Islands. In both trips unpredicted weather came up and we ended up beating in 25-30 kts. I must say I was beginning to wonder about this whole sailing thing, but Chris always looked like he was having such a grand time! While it certainly did serve for some good practice, I was very relieved when more than one person told me that cruising was NOT about beating to weather in 20+ kts (not until you come down from the Marshall Islands or go up the Red Sea anyway)!!!

I didn’t feel like the two weekends out was quite enough time under my belt, so I also signed up for three ASA courses. These were great and at least got me saying halyards and sheets rather than “that rope over there”. I think the last instructor may have gotten a bit annoyed with me when I kept asking “how would I do that alone”, especially with regards to the man overboard drills (where they always have two or three of the students working the boat to pick up the float). I also had to warn Chris that it would be best if he wore a helmet of some sort when sailing since more than once I ran over the poor floating man-overboard doll (in my defense this is because I was the ONLY student trying to do the drill alone and practicing how to come around a second time in case I missed the first time … I NEVER ran her over on a first attempt try, or when I had another student helping!). It seems I annoyed a lot of instructors that year; I thought the First Aid guy was going to kick me out when I kept saying “but what if I CAN’T call 911?” Anyway, I think Chris may have preferred the untrained me; especially when I started in with the “but in class we did it this way”! Imagine his surprise when we are coming into the dock and he says “okay you’ll jump off with the spring line and then ”, I cut him off saying “but in class we didn’t use a spring line, we did it this way …”, to which Chris replies “Yes, but that was with a side-tie and a much lighter boat, you need the spring line”, to which I say, “but I don’t understand what a spring line is”, and so it goes. This goes back and forth for a few minutes; meanwhile we are getting closer and closer to our slip. Finally, as we are turning INTO the slip, Chris says “Look just do it this way and we’ll talk about it later”. I respond with a big ‘ol “Umph”, but manage to jump off and secure the boat without any further dramatics. It turned out to be a good lesson for both of us, and we came to the conclusion that as a whole we would both be making decisions, but any in-the-moment decisions would be made by Chris and we would talk it over afterwards (making any changes to our methods at that time instead of in the midst of the “action”).

Are a few trips to the Channel Islands as a guest, two sea trial weekends, and three ASA courses enough to hop aboard and sail away? I guess so, because that’s what we did. We both would’ve liked if I had more experience but we took things slow and Chris stayed patient. We opted for day sails instead of overnighters whenever possible and overtime I became more and more tuned into the boat. We must’ve done something right because here we are still cruising, five years later!

When I think about that year of preparation and pregnancy I don’t think that I was in control of anything – I just tried to keep up. It was a great year though; there is a certain satisfaction in working towards such a grand goal and seeing progress, and no greater joy then seeing my sister and her husband holding newborns. Our year of preparation was nothing like we’d planned, but I wouldn’t change a day of it. I still smile when I think about the day we pulled away from the dock leaving Ventura, with me thinking, “it was just a joke …”

Continue reading "How It Began"...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Footprints on my Toilet Seat

Current Location: Finike, Turkey
Current Position: 36 17.63 N 30 08.98 E
Next Destination: Turkey Coast (between Finike & Marmaris)

I guess I learned at an early age that there are various ways to do the “doo” thing. We lived in a very old house (1700’s) heated by a system my dad referred to as cold dust, when my parents decided it was time for an addition. We went to visit the architect at his house and almost immediately after arriving I had to go. I was directed to this palatial room, longer than any room in our house, which had all sorts of fancy gizmos. Multiple sinks, a bathtub, Jacuzzi, stall shower, toilet and a drinking fountain. “Wow this is pretty cool”, I thought. Ok I was like eight or something and easily impressed. As I was finishing my business, I realized I was thirsty so I moseyed on over to get a drink from the “fountain”. Well luckily for me I was never trained to shut the door when I was in the bathroom (or most likely, ignored my training). Just as I was about to take a drink I heard the architects kids gasp in horror and run screaming in French to their parents. Do you get it yet? French porcelain thing that squirts water straight up... it was actually a bidet. It took a little explaining, some very confused looks on my part but I finally understood the near horror of my actions (yet I still wanted to know why they wanted to sit on a drinking fountain). Ever since that moment, I’ve looked at bathrooms just a tad bit differently.

I always joke with KT that we are not tourists but rather world travelers. When you are a tourist, the places you visit typically cater to your needs and set up surroundings that make you feel comfortable and at home. That is not the same in most remote villages or way off the beaten track. Most islanders don’t have running water; they shower/wash in a communal pool in the stream and electricity runs for an hour or two at night if the village can afford to run the generator. We hadn’t experienced anything too odd until we were headed North from Fiji to the Marshall Islands. In Kiribati, they have very cool houses built from natural materials tied together with hand made coconut fiber rope. Each room is a separate building and it takes a while until you realize the bathroom just isn’t part of the plan. During the dry season they get most of their drinking water from holes in the atolls so they can’t just go dropping their droppings near their water source. Instead they head out to the beach right near the waters edge. I was on a stroll one day, when I stumbled upon two sets of footprints. You could tell the couple was close, skipping and playing around with each other as they meandered down the beach. I followed the track around the corner until I came to a spot with two sets of footprints side by side, facing out towards the sea. Behind each set was, how do I put this, “a present” and in between the two sets of footprints was a heart drawn in the sand. Ah the joys of young love.

We had read Sex lives of Cannibals, which describes life in Tarawa, pretty much the armpit of Kiribati if not the world. We knew there was a section of Tarawa where everyone went to the bathroom on this certain point. Crap peninsula, dump point; I don’t remember the name. We stumbled upon it by mistake while we were checking out the World War II relics. There is a HUGE public restroom that now sits on the entrance to the beach at the point. In fact, you have to work hard to get around it. But when Mother Nature calls, the locals do what feels natural and head straight for the ocean. The restroom was vacant, the beach was: em-BARE-ASS-ingly packed with poopers. We struggled through the maze of rocks and people not knowing where to look.

We spent the better part of two years in remote places before we arrived on the shores of Australia. The Gold Coast was amazing and we swallowed the hook in a bay (aptly named Bums Bay); across from a HUGE mall where you could buy almost everything. We arrived around Christmas and almost immediately stumbled upon a vendor (you know those ones they put in the middle of the walkways around the holidays) selling add-on bidet toilet seats. It had all the bells and whistles; an automatic raising/lowering seat and lid, a heated seat (in Australia?), heated water, and a warm air dryer. It even had a remote control with a multitude of options; bottom wash (or posterior; the documentation was confusing), enema wash, feminine wash, warm air dry along with all sorts of water and nozzle controls. The icons for the buttons were good, and umm, very visual. Can you imagine the design review process for those? The seat even had adjustment settings like those automatic car seats, you know for driver 1 and driver 2. Next thing you know they’ll have voice activation. “Um yeah Hi it’s Chris.. um and.. ah..Crap”. Anyway I have no idea why it was so intriguing. Maybe because I hadn’t seen a real toilet seat in a while, but much to KT’s shear and utter embarrassment, I had to take a closer look!! Well this poor vendor must have thought he had a hot one because he was all over me, sharing the very important health and hygiene benefits I would receive if I only spent $1490 (I would love to have enough money where I could justify spending that kind of money on something like that). I listened to his spiel with my hand in my pocket pinching myself pretty hard so that I wouldn’t laugh in his face. I took a brochure AND a $100 off coupon but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. I finally told him we live on a boat, with a vacuum-sealed seat that is required to flush the toilet. Needless to say he was confused and he tried whole-heartedly to find a way to get me into an automatic healthy seat. Anyway I still have the brochure if anyone’s interested.

We did the rally from Darwin through Indonesia to Singapore, with cruisers who ran the gambit of backgrounds from the very experienced cruisers of Europe, all the way through to newbie cruisers of Australia who were experiencing their first foreign landfall. Now the rally has been going on quite some time and is a HUGE thing for the Indonesians, who don’t get a lot of tourism in their remote villages. I didn’t really notice it at first, but after a while I realized that the first thing each village did was show us their brand spanking new bathrooms, in some cases the wet paint sign was still hanging. The entire village was very proud, smiling and nodding their heads. You could tell a HUGE amount of effort was spent building these facilities for us. They were more modern than any building in the village and even had concrete floors (which must have actually cost them money). KT and I were embarrassed to think that someone must have complained enough that they were told to take the time and effort to build the facilities (which will most likely only get used on one day a year). I really hope they got more feedback about previous visits than the cruisers want toilets. Can you imagine what the local must have thought about our values if that was the case? Anyway it was kind of funny because the next shock came when people actually went to use them and realized they were pit toilets. They had incredibly nice brand new porcelain footpads, with cast in non-skid (hey it helps), which again cost them money. You ask for a toilet, that’s what you are going to get in Indonesia; because that’s how they do toilets. Anyway KT and I found the problem wasn’t toilets vs. no toilets in the villages, it was the six hour bus ride (with one stop) after eating very greasy native food of unknown origin, kicking up the southern hemisphere version of Montezuma’s Revenge.

In Oman we visited a maritime museum, which showed older ship construction techniques and even had a ¼ scale replica of a ship deck complete with the head. The head was basically a box that rested precariously over the ships rail with a hole in the floor and a bucket on a string. Well I thought it was older ship construction until we arrived in Eritrea and I watched a man feverishly dipping a bucket in the water before he passed the four sailboats at anchor. I was trying to take photos of a working fishing boat with my telephoto lens and I didn’t understand the urgency of his situation; until I saw he was sitting in a box, over the rail. Well in Sudan, they get rid of the side of the box all-together. Each day in Suakin we passed these small fishing boats, which had two planks, attached to the back of the boat. They were parallel to the water, connected in the front by a cross beam, and supported by sturdy ropes to the upper rail. I told KT what I thought they were but it wasn’t until weeks later that we saw them but to the test. It was blowing 30-35 knots and we were in a dodgy Marsa anchorage when a small fishing boat entered the bay with 10 people on board. They anchored upwind and to the side of us. One by one each person went to the stern, adjusted their robes and did their business. Some of them even waved!!

Ok, Finally the footprints on the toilet seat; hey this IS a chronological journey. When we arrived in Hurghada Egypt the marina was complete but the surrounding buildings were just shells. There were only two or three bathrooms; each with a shower, one sitter and one stander. Well the first thing you realize is toilet paper is optional and not provided. Luckily being the world travelers we are, 9 times out of 10 we do the paper check FIRST! Ok mad dash to the boat, grab a roll, run back to the toilet, wait for the person who stole your spot.. ok fine. Business done. Oh did I mention that most toilets have trash bins for the USED paper. It’s pretty much been the norm, with the exception of NZ and Australia, and I’m not sure if it’s the plumbing systems or just habit. Anyway, I happened to notice that there is a sink in the stall with the toilet, and there is this funky fitting on the back aimed at a 45 degree angle directly towards the direct center of the seat, hmm what’s that (..more later). Since there was lots of construction, the bathrooms were shared with the workers and there was lot’s of mud and sand tracked in on the floor, and THE SEAT. I guess if you are used to squat pit toilets, that’s the way you do it; even if you have to balance precariously on a raised wobbly platform. As time went on, it got wobblier and wobblier as the seat attachments worked loose. Well this must have caused more and more balance issues, with the appropriate radical corrections, until finally the entire toilet worked it way loose from floor and whatever held the thing down.

Once again someone must have complained because we were all issued a golden key to one set of facilities. They actually started putting toilet paper at the toilet AND the urinal, I don’t think they really understand what we do with it. Plus it’s bloody expensive, we went to “stock up” and KT grabbed a brand she knew, imported for a measly $3 a roll!! Not!! They use their hands, and in most Arab culture’s it very offensive to touch someone or eat with your left hand (“the wiper”). Due to the lack of early morning use by the construction workers, I must have been first to arrive on the scene one morning. I’m relaxing, enjoying the peace and quiet, when I hear this muted buzzing sound; kind of like 20-30 mosquitoes flying in a covered porcelain bowl. I’m racking my brain trying to figure out where the noise was coming from, when I stand up and a cloud of mosquitoes flies out of the gapping hole that was just recently occupied by my behind. Luckily they were too traumatized by their experience to think of biting their way out. Try and explain those welts!!

We were on our inland travel trip, when I realized what that thing was sticking out of the back of the toilet. You remember; 45 degree angle, aimed center of the seat. Well our $18 hotel room had a nice puddle of water on the bathroom floor that was obviously from the leaky toilet. Being a self-proclaimed handy man and a water Nazi, I decided I’d take a gander behind the base of the toilet. Just as my head reached the side of the bowl, I touched a valve and water shot straight over my shoulder into the shower behind me. “Holy crap what was that?” Well I just discovered the Egyptian version of the Bidet. Luckily this was the modern version, developed after they perfected computer simulation to get the angle and pressure just right. I had seen a couple of older models with a small piece of metal tubing coming straight out the back to the rough center before it took a 90 degree bend straight up. It looked more like a torture device, and if you didn’t realize what they used it for, there was no way your were going to get anything close to it.

The worst was on the trains. We took the basic train from Luxor to Aswan and realized just exactly how bad a toilet can get. There was no seat, the rim was covered by someone’s attempt at making a seat out of 100’s layers of toilet paper, and someone left a present without flushing which just went straight to the tracks below. Luckily I was just standing, but I thought of the poor people who might come after me, plus I would have been horrified if I opened the door and someone was waiting to go in. I mean, do you explain that it was like that when you got there; what is the etiquette on that? What if they don’t speak English? Anyway I tried to find a flush button, and finally found a foot lever like on those trashcans where it lifts the lid. Now you really have to picture this and understand my noble intentions.” Imagine, hmm.. yeah that must be it”, followed by a quick foot press. Well in this case it shot a massive stream of water straight out of the magic hole in the back of the bowl right into the center of my chest. “Awe come on!!” or something similar to that effect. Now I know some of you guys have leaned up against a wet counter and gotten that wet strip across your crotch, kind of embarrassing eh? Well imagine trying to explain water dripping from your chest all the way down your front. That’s it; I was done. No more worrying about the people behind me. I didn’t even care if the Egyptians thought all Americans were disgusting. All I wanted was a normal bathroom. I was dreaming, no, I was praying for modern facilities!!

When we first arrived in Finike Turkey, we couldn’t believe our luck. Nice Marina, cool town within walking distance, Saturday markets, and the biggest heads we’ve seen since Singapore. Nice and clean, with marbled floors, no waiting. KT and I both commented to each other when we got back on the boat. You know you’re in trouble when you get giddy over a bathroom… but we both did!! These facilities are so modern they have motion sensors on the paper towel dispensers and motion detecting light switches for each unit (shower or toilet). Now I don’t know if the Turks get jiggy with it on the toilet and in the shower, but Flash Gordon couldn’t finish in the time they give you. Now at 41, I know where my bits are, so showering in the dark isn’t really a problem, but you feel kind of like a complete lunatic sitting on the toilet or bare naked in the shower jumping up and down and waving at some sensor just to make the light go on. Maybe it’s all just a ploy by “Candid Camera”. If so, you’ll soon see me waving like a fool on the crapper in a couple of months. Please don’t let this be my fifteen minutes of fame.
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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Just a Bowl of Cherries

Current Location: Finike, Turkey
Current Position: 36 17.63 N 30 08.98 E
Next Destination: Turkey Coast (between Finike & Marmaris)

At last we made it through the Red Sea … another body of water under our belts and a huge sigh of relief. While Egypt may have tested my patience at times, the Red Sea as a whole was fantastic. Yes, we had to work for it and yes we got pounded a few times, but in the end I’m happy we decided to go through the Red Sea. I feel that it was a very unique opportunity and that I have now seen a different view of a somewhat conflicted part of the world.

We arrived in Finike, Turkey on July 5th. Already I’m in love. Green hills, blue water, puffy white clouds, and more fresh fruit than one could ever eat. We’ve been in the marina longer then we intended (don’t we just always seem to get stuck) … the downside is we will owe a small fortune when we go to leave, but on the upside, we were around for the Saturday market. What you may not know about me is that I’m obsessed with food. So a large market of goods I haven’t seen in awhile really “floats my boat”.

Fabulous. That’s the word for it. The first thing that hits you is the smell … gorgeous scents lofting through the air – seriously it smelled sooo good I feel that only a poet could accurately describe it. The peaches alone made my mouth water, and when we bit into one right then and there, juices dripped off our chins and both us could hardly contain our moans. I’m sure the local vendor now thinks Americans have never tasted a peach before! Honestly, I’ve NEVER eaten such a tasty peach.

Next up were the cherries. WOW! Oh man they are so good – we got a whole kilogram. And capsicums (bell peppers to those back home) … finally nice firm, un-wilted capsicums and they had red ones too (my favorite). Fresh basil and huge piles of spices were around every corner. And there was real lettuce, not just cabbage! Apples, pears, plums, grapes, and oranges … the list just goes on and on. To top it all off, not only were the prices listed (so we knew we weren’t getting the ‘white price’), but things were very affordable too. I thought for sure I had it wrong when I got a gigantic bag of cucumbers (probably 20 small guys) for only 1 lyre! [We later learned that Russia had recently banned certain Turkish produce imports, so there was a surplus supply. Luckily the ban has just been lifted, so business should get back to normal for the locals].

It was the kind of market where we could just hold out some money and know the vendor would only take what was due! I probably went overboard, we’ll now have to eat fresh fruits and vegetables ten times a day to ensure nothing goes bad … but it was so fantastic I couldn’t help myself.

There were also stalls of goat cheeses, yogurt, & olives, warm breads, and roasted nuts. Everyone was friendly, offering up tastes & samples. It was so colorful we came back an hour later with the camera. As always we were cautious with the photo taking, always asking for permission. It’s interesting the mixed responses you get, some people are very adamant with a strong “NO”, while others want you to take multiple photographs of them. Many thought I was strange when I focused the camera on the fruits & vegetable rather than the people … I mean who hasn’t seen a bunch of tomatoes before???

As Chris and I sit in the cockpit with a bowl of cherries between us we can’t help but think of the old saying, “Life’s just a bowl of cherries”. Ain’t it true???
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Friday, July 11, 2008

Moving On

Current Location: Finike, Turkey
Current Position: 36 17.63 N 30 08.98 E
Next Destination: Turkey Coast (between Finike & Marmaris)

Our big news this month is that BILLABONG IS FOR SALE! Now before you go thinking that we're quitting or that this seems sudden, let us explain. For the last year we have talked of putting Billabong on the market when we reached the Mediterranean. It's not that we want to stop cruising, trust us we don't, but Chris is no spring chicken and KT's biological alarm clock has been screaming for the last two years. It is time we started thinking about a family and with that comes the J-word (JOB)! It's always good to look ahead a bit, so we are putting Billabong on the market now to give us plenty of time to find the right buyer. And until she is sold we will keep on cruising, posting BLOGS, and enjoying life.

It's a mixed bag of emotions for us. On one hand we miss our friends and families and are ready for the next adventure of our own lives (mainly starting a family), but on the other hand, we LOVE cruising and can't imagine a different life. Moving home will be a HUGE adjustment ... I suppose we are secretly hoping she doesn't sell too fast, as we'd love a bit of time cruising the Mediterranean. It seems that time has gone by too fast, and there is still so much we have yet to see ... ahh, but I suppose we have to leave something for our retirement years!

If you are interested in knowing the details of Billabong's sale (or have a friend who is interested) check out www.sailbillabong.com/for-sale.htm. In the meantime, keeping checking out our BLOG because now that we are living in a more connected part of the world we will be posting more BLOGs.
Continue reading "Moving On"...

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Season 5 Interactive Map w/GPS tracks

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Saturday, July 05, 2008

Season 5 Photo Journals

Season 5 Route

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Friday, July 04, 2008

Passage Blurbs: Suez to Finike

Passage Route from Suez to Finike

Night 3 - July 4, 2008

Good night, nice winds looks like we'll make it tomorrow!! It's so nice to sail again.

Night 2 - July 3, 2008

light winds but better than rolly seas.. caught a Mediterranean Tuna but threw it back because I was sleeping (bad fisherman)!!

Night 1 - July 2, 2008

Through the Canal and on our way to Turkey.. expecting light winds so it might be a slow trip.. but we are SAILING!!

Continue reading "Passage Blurbs: Suez to Finike"...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ismalia Yacht Club

View Map of Location

1/2 way through the Canal. Looks like a nice city maybe we'll spend a couple/three days before we leave for the Med.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Red Sea Rush Hour

Current Location: Port Suez, Suez Canal, Egypt
Current Position: 29 56.85 N 32 34.37 E
Next Destination: Ismailia then Turkey

There are certain places we arrive at that just feel good, really good. It is as though upon arriving a huge weight is lifted from our shoulders and we both can't contain our smiles of relief and happiness. It has nothing to do with the location, but rather the difficulty of getting there. Some places just feel earned, as though a huge accomplishment has been achieved.

Lots and lots of tacking
Port Suez is one such location, as it marks the end of the Red Sea. There wasn't a moment traveling through the Red Sea that weather was not on our minds. Even in calm weather all we could think was "how long do we have before the wind picks up?" The last leg (from Hurghada to Port Suez) was getting especially bad reviews from the cruisers before us, who reported big seas and winds constantly over 20kts. When one of our friends emailed us and told us to multiply the weather forecast by five for the first part, and by two and add five for the second, we thought they were exaggerating ... only to learn later that even these modifications probably weren't enough! It's easy to understand that we weren't looking forward to this trip, but sometimes you just have to push onward!
It doesn't sound like much, after all it's not even 190 miles - how hard could it be? After our first day out we figured the best example for those back home was rush hour traffic. You know when you are sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic and you can SEE your exit just two miles ahead but you aren't moving, just sitting there, frustrated and wondering how much longer this will take? Then finally, 30 minutes later, you are at last off the freeway and you still can't believe that it just took you an hour to barely go 20 miles. Well, that's sailing in the Red Sea. Only it's a heck of a lot more uncomfortable sloshing around in big seas with wind and waves in your face. This BLOG is a day-by-day blow to show you what I mean.

First, just let me say that during this entire week the weather forecast was always around 10kts or below ... so it's not as though we didn't wait for a good weather window - this was it, this was as good as it was going to get! Also it should be understood that the winds ALWAYS (this time of year) come from the northern region, and of course, we were trying to go north.

Day 8: Marsa Hammam to Port Suez
Summary: 12 hours, 52.3 miles

We couldn't have asked for a better day. We didn't know if we'd make it all the way to Port Suez, but we departed at 4am thinking that if the weather was calm enough, we just might make it. What we got was unbelievable. Flat, and I mean FLAT, seas and light-light winds. We were happier than pigs in, well you know the saying. At first it was hard to believe or enjoy as I just kept waiting "for the other shoe to drop", but as the day went on and the seas only got calmer and Port Suez got closer I couldn't help but get excited ... we were really go to make it!!! We averaged 4.4 kts and didn't have to tack once (because it was light enough that we could just motor straight there).

We were done. At a little past 3pm we entered the Suez Canal and tied up at the "yacht club". The Red Sea was over. I knew I'd sleep soundly that night; not worrying over what the wind would be doing tomorrow or how much of a beating we'd have to take. Honestly though, Chris and I both agree that we had a good trip. It might've been slow, but it was easily 100 times better than what we'd expected. Most of the hassle was the planning, wondering and guessing. We think it was a combination of luck and patience that made our trip "easy". We were even more appreciative when the boat next to us told us of his hellish 40+kts that he experienced.

Sitting just inside the Suez Canal we can watch the huge tankers and container ships steam past, and it's amazing. These huge monsters slowly motoring by, dwarfing everything around them. What is especially interesting is how they take-on and disperse the canal pilots. Imagine sitting in a small motorboat, about the size of a three-person rowboat. You motor next to a HUGE tanker going about 10kts. Via a crane, a line is lowered down that is attached to your small boat and slowly you are lifted off the water and raised up to the ships deck. When it's time to depart the process is reversed. The large ships never stop, and for good reason, listening on the VHF we heard one tanker tell port control he needed 45 minutes to raise the anchor. If they had to stop and anchor at both ends of the channel they'd probably loose about 4-6 hours. Still it's amazing to watch them raise and lower these little boats with two men sitting there, probably praying that nothing goes wrong.

If all goes smoothly, tomorrow we'll motor through the first half of the canal. At least we don't have to worry about the winds, as the canal is too narrow for any fetch to build up, but as it takes us our ten hours to go forty miles will be thinking of home and just how fast that rush hour traffic moves!!!
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