Saturday, December 30, 2006

Report: The Voyage 2006

Last night, with the first calendar year of The Voyage drawing to a close, I spent some time reviewing my iPhoto library and reflecting on all that has happened in just five months so far. In particular, I was struck by seeing myself in so many places and with so many of the wonderful people who have shared in my experience along the way. I wanted to share theses images with you and -- while many of them are already in the Photos pages -- I hope you will find this presentation to be new and interesting nonetheless. My thanks to all of you who are pictured, and my apologies to those of you who are not. I have realized that I want to take more photos of myself with people along the way and I am making that my New Year’s resolution. As we all embark on a new year, I wish everyone a healthy and happy one, full of the joy, learning and growth that comes from the exploration of our outer world and our inner selves. I look forward to sharing more of my own exploration as The Voyage of Macgellan continues! (Thanks to Jonathan Coulton for just the right song -- Again!)

Musing: Rice-A-Rica

RicearicaI’ve been in Costa Rica for over six weeks now, and I have enjoyed my time and exploration here. The country is politically stable, reasonably safe, relatively inexpensive and has generally good infrastructure. The weather is warm, the environs are pleasant and the people are friendly. With all this going for it, I have had a hard time figuring out why I am not as enamored with Costa Rica as so many other folks seem to be. The answer came to me the other day as I was eating dinner, and I can use the food here as an analogy for my larger impression: It’s redundant, bland and boring.

Let’s take a closer look at the food for a minute: The most salient feature of every meal you will ever have in Costa Rica is that rice will be involved. Rice -- usually in the form of rice and beans -- is the foundation of every plate that comes out of every kitchen for every meal of every day. Really, I’m not kidding. One look at the rice section of any market -- with its stacks and stacks of big bags of rice -- will tell you how much rice goes on here. Now, don’t get me wrong. I like rice. Rice is a friend of mine. I know the noble and vital role that rice plays in feeding much of the world and I respect rice for it. What I don’t really like is rice as the staple of my diet every meal, every day, all the time.

As if the rice thing wasn’t bad enough, the rest of the meals are equally redundant: For breakfast, add scrambled eggs. For lunch, add a generic piece of meat, chicken or fish. For dinner, repeat the generic flesh and add generic steamed vegetables. Every day, every meal, repeat exactly. What makes this all the more astonishing is that on any street in any town you can find multiple little restaurants -- or “sodas” as they are called here -- that have exactly the same menu and serve exactly the same meals. In extreme cases like the bus station in San Jose, you can find four redundant “sodas” side by side in the terminal. While waiting for my bus the other day, I cruised up and down the line trying in vain to find something different -- forget about unique -- among them.

To finish the analogy, I will add that the food is bland. You may find the occasional “sauce” to top off your rice and meat, but at best it will be generic “brown with mushrooms.” You will not find any kind of herbs, seasoning or spices. Nothing that really intrigues your palate or helps you remember it as a “great” meal. Nothing. I guarantee it. To its credit, though, the food here is clean, safe and filling. You can’t go “wrong” with it. And there, I think, is the rub.

Costa Rica in general, like its food, is clean, safe and filling. You can get on a plane in the States and get off a few hours later in San Jose. You can join a tour, see a volcano, ride a zip line, see a few animals, cross bridges in the jungle canopy, spend some time on the beach and eat your rice. You can then fly home, tell folks what a good time you had and say that Costa Rica is great.

But if you reflect for a minute, you will realize that the zip line could have been constructed between trees in your local park for all you learned about the flora. Same for the canopy bridges. You will recall that the wild animals were few and far between and you could have gotten more out of a trip to your local zoo. The same is true for the volcanos -- better to watch the Discovery channel. As for the beaches, well, they are nice in places but not world class anywhere. So, while there is a lot to “see and do” in Costa Rica, you don’t really get a chance to “learn and grow” because of it.

It’s like the rice: There’s plenty of it, it fills you up and it won’t do you any harm, but you won’t get that much out of it.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Logbook: Brazil Visa Gambit

BrazilvisagambitMy boat ride up the canal to Tortuguero was rained out again on Tuesday so I chilled out for a while, reading the only English book I found in the hotel’s “library.” Thankfully, it was Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness & The Secret Sharer” which I have never read, and I am now a later-in-life -- but earnest -- fan of Conrad’s writing! When the rain slacked off, I walked around Limon and stumbled on a laundry to which I promptly returned with my bag-o-clothes. The rest of the day was happily spent doing other miscellany. On Wednesday morning I set in motion the “Brazil Visa Gambit.” Okay, so what’s that all about? Well, the story goes like this: In preparation for my upcoming series of ocean voyages, I had done some checking on “entry requirements” for the various countries which I will be visiting along the way. The only one which requires a visa is Brazil -- and this is only in reciprocity because the US requires Brazilians to have a visa to enter the States... Go figure.

Anyway, back at the beginning of the month I had gone to the Brazilian embassy in San Jose to apply for a visa, but was rejected because of a little timing problem. You see, entry into Brazil must occur within 90 days of the date on which the visa is granted. Since I am not going to arrive in Brazil until March 29th, that means I could not get my visa until today, December 29th. Since I was not willing to hang around San Jose for the entire month just to get my Brazilian visa, I went to the coast -- as you know -- and tried everything I could think of to avoid having to come back to San Jose to get the visa. After numerous Skype calls -- to the ship, its port agent in Brazil, etc. -- it became clear that I will need a visa and that I will not be able to get one along the way unless, for example, I would be willing to fly from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires during my layover in February. All things considered, it seemed to me that a trip back to San Jose this week would be the smallest sacrifice -- hence my use of the word “Gambit” -- to gain the advantage of having the Brazil Visa issue resolved.

So, I caught the bus from Limon on Wednesday and arrived in San Jose in the afternoon. I took the rest of the day to fill out the forms, get a photo taken and find an English book store -- or at least a book store that had some books in English -- where I picked up a couple more works by Conrad and a few others to read aboard ship. Early yesterday morning I went to the Brazilian Embassy and carefully explained my situation -- especially my critical timing issue -- to a woman who said, “Well, this all seems okay to me, but this is my first time doing this.” Great. With an ongoing sense of uncertainty, I left my passport and papers with her then spent the rest of the day wandering around San Jose generally killing time. This morning, I went back to the Embassy and was just tickled to receive my passport with a Brazil Visa dated today, just like I need it to be! Perfect!

In about an hour, I will catch a bus back to Limon having successfully executed the Brazil Visa Gambit. Now, for the part of this that strikes me as ironic: I have invested three days -- not to mention the $100 processing fee, additional travel expenses, etc. -- to get a Visa that I will use for less than three days of port calls in Brazil during which I may not even get off the boat! As I have mentioned before, this is one of those “circumstances” that often arise on The Voyage, and I continue to experience them with humor and good cheer -- a good sign of my ongoing positive state of mind. When I get back to Limon, I hope to finally be able to take the boat ride up the canal to Tortuguero. I also look forward to making final preparations to continue my “surface circumnavigation of the earth” on the high seas. The Voyage of Macgellan continues!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Logbook: Limon

LimonLimon -- officially “Puerto Limon” -- is a remarkable little city with a surprisingly varied character. Arriving on Saturday afternoon, I was a little overwhelmed at first by the crowd, traffic, noise and chaos after my week of calm and quiet down the coast at Cahuita and points south. After a quick walk around town -- it really only takes about 15 minutes to see most of it -- I pretty easily got a sense of the place. On the surface, Limon is the commercial center for the coast and features both the usual collection of markets, restaurants, banks, etc. plus a fairly wide array of shops for electronics, stationery, hardware and the like. Limon’s most prominent commerce, however, is the multitude of clothing and fashion wear stores, especially shoes. For some reason, Limon has many shoe stores. I was happiest to find a nice, quiet, air conditioned internet center with a fast, stable wi-fi network, so I spent some quality time there.

A little more walking around showed me another side to Limon, the “dumpy” side. Ad hoc, cardboard box trash depots are to be found on many street corners and a noticeable number of vagrants appear in various places. While one first sees the nice, new commercial buildings and orderly stores lining the main streets, one later finds decrepit structures on many side streets. I was also treated to the sight of several rats scampering between buildings. Nevertheless, the people are friendly and the order exceeds the chaos, so by the time Saturday was over, I found myself enjoying Limon and looking forward to spending a few days here. As soon as I got up yesterday morning and went for coffee, however, I noticed yet another very different feel to Limon. Not half a block from my hotel, I started being approached by bums, kids, and various questionable characters asking for money or offering to sell me things I don’t want. This had not happened at all the day before, so I was a little confused.

As I walked the next block wondering what was up, I passed a group of about 20 gringos making loud, not very flattering comments about the town. Aha! This is a port town and a ship has docked! Sure enough, I soon saw gringos everywhere and saw yet another side of Limon. What just the day before was a pleasant little town became a tourist hell overnight. I spent most of the day in the internet center and, frankly, hiding out in my room, but when I went out for dinner at about seven, I found the town had switched back to its “other” self. The ship had sailed at six. I proceeded to enjoy my dinner in a “soda” -- a very typical, small, family restaurant -- trying hard not to stare and laugh as the locals talked animatedly amongst themselves while they counted the money they had pocketed during the day.

After another session at the internet center I enjoyed the “Nochebuena” -- “Christmas Eve” -- parade (which I have shared in a Report) and called it a day. For this morning, I had arranged to take a boat ride up the canal to Tortuguero National Park but awoke to a downpour and was told that the trip would be rescheduled for tomorrow. So, I have happily spent the day doing iLife, avoiding the effects of the ship that is in port for the day, and making trips back and forth to the internet center. As soon as I finish this Logbook entry I will head over there once again and see if Limon has anything else to show me along the way! Stay tuned!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Logbook: Manzanillo

ManzanilloOn Wednesday morning, I made my daily trek into town, continued south across Kelley Creek and into Cahuita National Park. There I found a lovely five mile trail that follows a beautiful beach, crosses a number of streams, rounds a rocky point and ends back at the road a few miles out of town. I really enjoyed this walk and stopped at many places along the way just to enjoy the view. Including the walk to town, the Park walk, the walk back to town and then the walk back to my room, I estimate my total distance for the day at about ten miles. Although it was fairly level all the way, the heat and humidity pretty much wore me out and I was happy to take a dip in the pool, drink plenty of fluids and have a quiet early evening. Thursday morning I decided to explore the environs south of Cahuita, so I walked into town and caught the local bus -- not quite a “chicken bus” but close -- and rode about 10 miles to Puerto Viejo.

Here I found another really nice beach and a cheery assortment of restaurants, shops and accommodations. I walked around for a bit while I drank a bottle of water and came to the conclusion that Puerto Viejo is a fairly “high energy” place that is popular with more of a “younger” crowd -- surfers, college kids, etc. -- so I caught the next bus further south. After passing through a series of little beach towns, the road -- and my ride -- ended in the town of Manzanillo. Although there are the usual assortment of tourist establishments on hand, Manzanillo is more of a “local” kind of place. It has a long, broad white beach that was being enjoyed by a diverse group of people including a few surfers, some young families, a small number of gringos and what was obviously a local school class on an “outing” complete with sack races, egg tosses, tug-of-war and the like. I found myself liking Manzanillo right away and, after a brief walk-around, parked myself on the second floor of Maxi’s bar and settled down with a bottle of water, a chicken sandwich and my book.

I was quite content to stay there for a while, and that was a good thing because I soon learned that the next -- and last -- bus back to Cahuita would not leave until “sometime early evening.” So, between my meal, my book, some random chats, a walk on the beach and a nap under a palm tree I spent the rest of the day fully enjoying Manzanillo. At about five-thirty, a bus pulled in and people started to head for it, so I joined the queue and got on board. Probably because this was the last bus of the day, it made stops every few hundred meters and became packed with a collection of visitors who were heading back to their hotels and locals who were heading home from work. Finally, at about seven the bus pulled into Cahuita where I bailed out and made the trek back to my room. I have to admit that I was once again pretty worn out! So yesterday, after two pretty tiring days, I decided to just “hang out” and my day consisted of taking a walk on the beach, finishing my book and doing a little iLife.

Last night I ate at “La Casa Creole” where chef Antonio was kind enough to pepare my very favorite meal: A steak salad! Yum! If you ever visit Cahuita, you must dine with Antonio, his lovely wife Valerie, and their exotic hostess Soleil. It will be the best meal you have in Costa Rica, I guarantee it! With that, my time on the southern Caribbean coast comes to an end and I will be heading up to Limon this afternoon to begin the next leg of The Voyage. My time here has been fabulous and I strongly encourage any of you who are planning a trip to Costa Rica to include this lovely area in your itinerary. It is by far my favorite part of the country, and I would come back here -- and maybe only back here -- again!

Musing: eCenter Limon

Ecenterlimon1There’s a nice little internet joint in Limon called “eCenter.” It is run by a couple of bright, helpful young people who speak pretty good English and it has a stable, hi-speed wi-fi connection. It is also nicely air conditioned! About the only thing “wrong” with it is that it is populated by PCs... But my Mac and I are used to that, so we just smile and go about our business. During my time in Limon I have made frequent visits, generally once in the morning then -- after my daily exploration or what have you -- again in the evening. I made one such visit this morning, then packed up my gear and headed out to find some lunch and something to explore.

As I was walking around town, I saw an older American couple -- who were obviously off the ship-of-the-day -- standing on a corner, looking around and seeming to be quite lost. Having sympathy for the sense of overwhelm that Limon can induce, I asked if they were looking for something. The woman noticeably perked up at hearing my question in English and said, “Yes! We need the internet!” I was happy to say I could help them and gave them exact directions to the eCenter only a few blocks away. Then, as I continued on my walkabout, it occurred to me that many people on the ships would likely be “hungry” for the internet upon arrival in Limon and that it would make sense for someone to stand at the pier when the ships come in and hand out little cards with information and a map to the eCenter. That little thought brought me face to face with a dilemma that has vexed me many, many times over the past few months I have been in Central America.

On one hand, I am moved by my love of commerce and my desire to help others succeed to offer ideas when they occur to me. On the other hand, the language barrier -- combined with what I can only describe in brief as a lack of imagination and initiative that is prevalent in these little latitudes -- makes it very hard for me to convey my ideas and the contextual understanding they often require. Most of the time, I have simply made a “note to self” and gone about my business. This time, my affinity for the nice young couple running the eCenter -- combined with their excellent English -- held sway and I decided to stop by after lunch and offer them my idea. When I got there, I first told them what had happened with the people on the street. The young man quickly said, “Yes, we know. The man said one of the locals told him where to find us.” (You can imagine my delight at being viewed as “one of the locals”!) I then shared my idea about handing out cards at the pier and he instantly replied, “That’s a great idea! Thanks!” We then exchanged farewells and I left, feeling good about how I had resolved the dilemma this time and not putting any stock in whether or not anything would come of it.

Ecenterlimon2Later on, at about six o’clock when I was heading out to find some dinner, I decided to stop by and go on-line for a few minutes. Just after I sat down and fired up my Mac, the young man came over to me and said, “Excuse me. Would you please look at this.” I have to admit that I was amazed -- shocked, actually -- when he handed me a printed sample of the card he had designed. Not only had he taken what I told him and actually done something with it, he had added some thought to it and made a really good card. I told him I thought it was very good, then he asked something which I have not encountered in a long time: “Do you have any suggestions?” I was so surprised that I was almost speechless, but I gathered my wits enough to offer a couple of minor additions which he accepted with enthusiasm then went back to his desk to work on the card.

So, what’s my point? Well, it goes something like this: First, for many years I consulted to commerce and, frankly, I got pretty burned out. I got worn down by business people who paid me for advice then responded with “We can’t do that” - “We’ve never done it that way before” - “We’re too busy” - “You don’t really know how our industry works” then did nothing except continue to whine about their business problems. To have an opportunity to make a contribution -- even a small one like my idea about the cards -- and have it enthusiastically embraced and actually acted upon was very refreshing. Second, by putting aside my preconceptions about language, communication and culture, I was rewarded by making a connection with someone who obviously shares my enthusiasm for commerce -- irrespective of our vastly different backgrounds and experiences.

So, what’s the bottom line? Well, I am reminded to keep my eye out for individuals -- whoever and wherever they may be -- who exhibit enthusiasm and openness for things I value, then take the risk to engage them gently and not have expectations about what happens. I might get back more than I could have imagined.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Logbook: Cahuita

Cahuita1On Saturday morning, I packed up and checked out of the lovely La Condesa that had been my home for a week in the San Jose area. I said good-bye to my friends on the staff who had been so helpful and hospitable then got a ride to “Los Caribenos” -- the name commonly used for the San Jose bus station that handles all buses to the Caribbean Coast. Because of the time and cost that would have been involved in getting my ticket in advance, I had ignored Vanessa’s warnings that the weekend buses might be full and that I might have some difficulty getting a seat. Frankly, having a few months of Central American bus experience under my belt, I realized that I had been over-working the problem in the past and was ready to take an easier approach. I had checked the bus schedule and found that there were four direct buses to Cahuita -- with one leaving every two hours starting at ten in the morning -- so I was pretty confident of getting a ride at some point in the day.

Sure enough, I arrived at the terminal a little after nine, walked up to the ticket counter, said “Cahuita” and was rewarded with a seat on the ten o’clock bus. Big deal. Right on time, the bus loaded up to capacity, hit the road and about three hours later pulled into a scruffy little town with signs that indicated I had arrived in Cahuita. I got off the bus, got my gear and watched as the bus pulled away in a cloud of dust. In the immediate vicinity of the Chuita bus station -- which consists of a ticket window, an awning and a bench -- there is a bar, a tour operator, a bar, a little restaurant and a bar. There were no cabs waiting to take me the mile or so out of town to my hotel, but there were a few people milling around, and they were my first indication that this was a very different part of Costa Rica. Poor, black and speaking in a distinctive “Island English” dialect, it is clear that this area was settled from the East, not from the North or South. Anyway, I stood around for a few minutes taking in the sights and waiting to see what would happen, when a woman on bicycle stopped, said “Welcome to Cahuita, mon! I’ll get you a cab, mon!” and peddled off. A few minutes later I got into a car -- obviously not a cab -- with a young guy, his wife and two kids for a ride down the road. It’s funny how ingrained our paranoia is sometimes, because the thought that I might be on my way to a mugging actually crossed my mind. That thought gave way almost immediately to recognition that the guy’s wife and kids were in the car and that it was most likely he was the bicycle woman’s son just looking to make a couple of bucks.

Needless to say, I survived the entirely uneventful five minute trip and arrived safely at La Diosa -- a quiet, tidy collection of “cabinas” that had been recommended to me by a friend. After a quick check-in and change of clothes, I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around, checking the place out and then laying in a hammock by the ocean reading a book. A simple dinner in a place across the road capped off the day, and I slept to the sound of waves washing onto the lava rock shore. Tough life, I know, but somebody has to do it!

Cahuita2Sunday morning I walked into town and got under the awning of the market just as the rain started pouring down. I spent a few minutes looking around the goofy little place, bought some water and a few snacks then stood out under the awning again while the rain continued. For about twenty minutes it rained like crazy, and I passed the time joking with the girls in the store, helping a kid put the chain back on his bike and petting the dogs who were hanging around. When the rain stopped, the skies cleared and the sun shone while I walked back to my lodging. It was immediately sweltering, so I spent most of the afternoon walking along the beach and reading, then had dinner and hit the rack. Yesterday, I decided to catch a bus up to Limon to check out what I have ahead of me there prior to my sailing date on January 3rd. So, I walked into town, found the bus station and bought a ticket. Although it was already almost 9:30, I saw that my ticket was for the 9:15 bus. A quick query of the ticket clerk was answered with a shrug and I knew immediately that this was completely normal.

At about ten the bus arrived, already full, so I climbed on and hung on as the bus took off with a lurch. About 15 minutes later, after even more people packed in, the bus pulled over to the side of the road and people started getting off. At first I thought this was some kind of popular stop, but as the bus got more and more empty and it became obvious that everybody was going to get off, I realized that I was experiencing my first Costa Rican road block! We all stood in line, had our papers examined by a man in a hat and got back on the bus. It all took about fifteen minutes which, it turns out, is also enough time for people to buy drinks and snacks from a cart that I am pretty sure belongs to the brother of the man in the had... If you know what I mean. Anyway, the last fifteen minutes of the trip to Limon was uneventful and I got off the bus in the middle of town. I will save my observations of Limon until I’ve been there longer, but for now I will tell you that within two hours I had located the pier, arranged a place to stay only two blocks away, found a store where I will be able to get some rubber boots that I will need on my cruises, had a snack and a bottle of water, located a hi-speed internet connection and gotten back on a bus.

By the time I reached Cahuita, I was hot and tired so, you guessed it, I found my favorite hammock and read my book, then had fresh fish for dinner and an early bed time. This morning I spent some time with Marcello -- the owner of La Diosa -- introducing him to his first Mac which a relative had brought him last week. In the process, I was able to sort out some of his internet stuff and got my own trusty Mac to be able to connect more reliably with the great Mac server in the sky. So, I’ve spent much of the afternoon in iLife and will wrap up by posting this Logbook entry. In closing, I will say that I really like Cahuita. It is a scruffy, undeveloped, remote little town that offers nice beaches, plenty of quirky eateries and lodging -- with reasonable prices -- and nice people. If you want to “get away”, avoid the bus tourists and experience a completely different Costa Rica, this could be a place for you.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Logbook: Taking Care Of Stuff

Takingcareofstuff1Having gotten my extraordinary travel arrangements made -- as described in the last Logbook entry on Monday -- it was time starting on Tuesday for me to make some “ordinary” arrangements. First, I needed to do laundry which is usually pretty simple, but this time would be a little more complicated due to the fact that the place I am staying is pretty far from the middle of town. I figured that a cab ride to and from a laundry would make my washing a little pricey, so I explored the option of using the hotel’s laundry service. With rates like $3 per shirt and $5 for pants, however, it was clear that even my limited wardrobe was going to add up pretty fast. So, I talked this dilemma over with Vanessa -- a very helpful staff member -- and asked for a better deal on the house laundry service. She had me wait a moment while she talked to her boss, but returned to say, “Sorry, no deal.” I didn’t exactly whine, but I did press the issue with her and after a few minutes of light-hearted banter, she said “Hold on” then made a phone call. After the usual incomprehensible chatter in Spanish, she hung up and said, “Someone will meet you at your room in five minutes. She will take your laundry. You can pay her what you want.” Now we’re in business! So I went back to my room and sure enough there was soon a knock on my door. A nice young woman who is obviously part of the housekeeping staff took my laundry bag, beamed from ear to ear at the 5,000 Colones ($10) I handed her) and said, “Manana!” With that deal done, I started working on figuring out how to find a dentist so I could get my teeth checked and cleaned. Right in the middle of the hotel lobby is a rack of brochures, and I found one for a local dentist. I got Vanessa to make a call for me, and was rewarded with an appointment for the next morning. Okay!

Takingcareofstuff2The rest of Tuesday was spent on-line figuring out what I’m going to do for the next couple of weeks. Yesterday morning when I got back from breakfast, I found my laundry -- perfectly folded and maybe even ironed! -- sitting on my bed! (Your guess is as good as mine, but I suspect it was a little “side job” at home for the housekeeper.) Perfect! Feeling like I was on a roll, I got a ride into town and was dropped off at the location shown above. The sign clearly indicated it was the dentist’s office, but even after traveling for a while in this part of the world -- and getting accustomed to modifying my expectations -- I still had to take a moment to adjust to the surroundings. Pura Vida! I went in, met Dra. Suzanna Vallejo and sat in the chair. Her English skills are not quite as advertised in the brochure, so I used my best Spanish and said “No problemo! Necessito solo limpia!” (In other words, “There’s no problem. I just need a cleaning.”) That seemed to do the trick and everything went find. She did a routine check-up and confirmed “No problemo” then did a fine cleaning. When she was finished, we had a good laugh, took a group picture and I paid her the $40 she asked for. Done deal!

Back on the street, I walked around until I found a Pali store -- sort of in between a convenience store and a supermarket -- and got a few supplies. In the afternoon, I was back on-line, deciding to head to the Caribbean coast to explore until I embark from there on January 3rd and making bus/lodging arrangements. All day today has been an iLife day -- it takes a long time to put all this web stuff together, even for a Mac guru like me! -- and I’m ready for a drink before calling it a day. Tomorrow I will pack up my gear, make sure everything is in order and prepare to get moving again on Saturday morning. Stay tuned!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Logbook: Check The Map

Checkthemap_2For those of you who haven’t checked the Voyage of Macgellan Map in a while, now is a good time to do so. After several days of pretty intensive “back-and-forth” with people all over the world -- have I mentioned how much I love and rely on Skype! -- logistical plans for the next four months of The Voyage are pretty well firmed up. Here’s an overview: On January 3rd, I will embark from Puerto Limon, Costa Rica on the MV Discovery for a 33 day cruise that will transit the Panama Canal, explore the Galapagos Islands, make brief stops at various ports in Equador, Peru and Chile, then cruise the western side of the Weddell Peninsula in Antarctica -- making landings as conditions permit -- and end up in Ushuaia, Argentina on Febrary 6th. I will then have almost 3 weeks in Ushuaia to explore Tierra del Fuego before boarding the MV Polar Star on February 26th for a 19 day cruise that will make a circuit of the eastern side of the Weddell Peninsula -- again, making landings as conditions permit -- then continue on to the South Orkney Islands, South Georgia Island and the Falkland Islands before returning to Ushuaia on March 16th. I will remain on board with the crew of the MV Polar Star while they “reposition” the ship to Salvador, Brazil to begin the next leg of our journey on March 29th. Our 18 day Atlantic crossing will include stopping at the volcanic islands of Fernando de Noronha, crossing the Equator and visiting St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks, exploring Cape Verde and continuing on to the Canary Islands for an April 15th arrival. Whew!

I am very excited about this itinerary and am already looking forward to it with great anticipation. After traversing the North American continent strictly by means of land travel for about four months, I will spend the next four months circumnavigating the South American continent by sea! To me, one of the advantages of this seagoing itinerary is that all of my “travel logistics” will be handled in advance. The time and effort I have thus far been putting into arranging transport -- trains, buses, etc. -- can be used for purely exploration purposes. Considering the fabulous environs through which I will be traveling, I expect to be able to share some amazing media with you. The only downside that I can imagine at this point is that internet connection may not be as ubiquitous or reliable as it has been so far. The ships may or may not have some kind of internet facilities, but at a minimum I will have various times ashore to make connection and update this site.

Fear not, fellow Voyagers, for I shall not fail you! You can look forward to plenty more great stuff from The Voyage of Macgellan! (PS - If you are curious about what I am going to do between now and January 3rd, I must inform you that I have no idea at the moment. I’ve been putting all my energy into the arrangements outlined above and haven’t given the next few weeks much thought. Among the possibilities I have thought of are: 1) actually taking some Spanish lessons to augment what I’ve “learned on the street”, 2) going back up to Nicaragua to do a river trip that Parole -- remember him from Managua? -- told me about, 3) exploring the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and 4) seeing if I can do some kind of work around San Jose. Anything is possible, of course, and I’ll let you know as soon as I figure it out! Stay tuned!)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Logbook: Quepos - Manuel Antonio Park

QueposAbout an hour’s drive south of Jaco -- on a decent road that is only occasionally punctuated by terrifying and bone jarring bridge crossings -- lies Quepos, a small town of about a half-dozen streets each way, that serves as the regional center for recreational activity (especially sport fishing) and as the gateway to the Manuel Antonio National Park. On Monday, our van drove right through Quepos and on down the road for about 5km to deposit us at our hotel. Upon arrival, I was received a message from my good friend Greg -- that’s right, “Pumito” from “Los Viaeros”! -- informing me that he and his wife were in the middle of their own Costa Rica tour and were at a hotel just down the road. We arranged to meet for dinner at a nearby restaurant that has a novel theme -- it is built around an old C-123 cargo plane -- and has an excellent view. You can imagine the fun we had, sharing notes about Costa Rica, catching up on what has happened on The Voyage since we were together in Mexico and generally cutting up like we always do. True to form, Greg brought along one of his magic tricks and amused the entire wait staff with his antics. What a character! After a good meal and a great time together, we parted ways, thankful for our serendipitous rendezvous and vowing to meet again very soon someplace else in the world.

Yesterday morning, Kay and I caught a ride down the hill to the entrance of the Manuel Antionio National Park. The mass of small hotels, bars and restaurants that are crammed into a very small space gave us some concern about what we might find ahead, but we were quickly reassured when we entered the Park and found it to be a clean, quiet, beautiful environment that was relatively free of tourists. We enjoyed a very nice walk along a well defined path, looking for wildlife. We were unable to see any squirrel monkeys -- which the Park is famous for -- but we did see a number of iguana, birds and the like. We walked back along the beaches and stopped for about an hour in a spot that was truly tropical with a broad sandy beach, lovely greenery and a spectacular view of geologic formations thrusting out of the clear Pacific Ocean. On our way out of the Park, we stopped for lunch at a little cafe on the beach and enjoyed a quiet meal. The prices were still “touristy” but the setting was much more relaxed and enjoyable than we experienced in Jaco. I can recommend Manuel Antonio as a place you ought to visit if you travel to Costa Rica.

Last night, we had dinner in the hotel’s restaurant and enjoyed the typical experience of power outages every hour or so. It really is quite humorous if you don’t let it bother you, and the sense of routine with which the wait staff deals with it can make it downright entertaining. This morning we caught a ride back into the town of Quepos, walked around and found a watch shop that promised to have the batteries in my watch replaced within a half-hour. While we waited, we had coffee at the counter in a local eatery and enjoyed watching the women preparing food for the day. I was able to communicate to some degree and was able to get a laugh or two out of them. After that, we picked up my watch and found another little place for lunch. We each had a plate of “typical” Costa Rican fare which consists of rice, beans, salad, potatoes, plantain and a small amount of chicken, meat or fish. Finally out of “tourist zone” we also paid a “typical” price of about $3 per meal. After another little walk around town, we caught a ride back to our hotel for some time at the pool and an afternoon of relaxation.

In the morning, we will ride back to San Jose and have one night there before Kay flies out on Friday. We have had a good week checking out two of the beach areas on the south shore of Costa Rica. Jaco is a mess, but Quepos and the Manuel Antonio Park a worthwhile. Stay tuned for whatever is next on The Voyage of Macgellan!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Logbook: Jaco

Jaco1Saturday morning we took a cab from our little hotel at the south end of Jaco to a recommended restaurant “on the beach” at the north end of town. I quote “on the beach” because, frankly, nothing in Jaco is actually on the beach. Mostly there are walls that delineate the edge of “town” form the beach, and there are only a few places that don’t have walls. So, you can be “on the beach” in that you can see the beach and there is nothing between you and the beach, but it would be big stretch to say that you are really “on the beach.” After an adequate meal, we walked back the entire length of town, right down the main street. In a general sense, I can understand why tourists flock to Jaco. It is a tropical destination that offers everything from large resorts to tiny “surfer camping places.” It has a zillion bars with all manner of themes, and as many restaurants that range from obscenely priced faux haute cuisine to local joints serving typical Costa Rican rice and bean dishes. It is a hub for all kinds of tourist activity including sport fishing, surfing, kayaking, scuba diving, jungle canopy rides, hanging bridges and prostitution. What more could the “vacation week” or “spring break” tourist want? In my mind, I can picture Jaco ten years ago as a place where the adventurous, perhaps stoner vacationer would go to “get away from it all” and get lost in Jaco’s lush, tropical beach environs. Now, however, it is over developed, over hyped and just plain over done. I didn’t care for Jaco, I wouldn’t come back here and I cannot recommend it to others. Nevertheless, we had two full days in Jaco and tried to make the most of it.

On Saturday afternoon we arranged to do “the best canopy tour in Costa Rica” in the nearby national park. At the appointed time, a van picked us up and drove us a few kilometers to the park where we were nicely greeted and shown a very slick video that explained the history of the famous aerial tram and all the fabulous wildlife we would see on our ride. As we prepared to board the 8 passenger tram, we saw carload after carload of elderly, infirm and “mobility challenged” people unloading. Obviously, a very large group from a cruise ship had been transported from who knows where for a shore excursion. Somehow, this was not a good sign, and what I saw looking up mountainside at the route of the tram wasn’t much better. A path had been cleared through the jungle which the aerial tram traverses from tower to tower at a moderate pace. During the entire trip we saw only a few animals, none very interesting and all at a distance. Our “guide” did her best to make it interesting, but it was all pretty lame. I was an absolute tourist trap and, at $55 per person, it was a complete rip off. Anyway, Saturday night we went to a decent “bistro” for dinner and called it a day.

Yesterday morning we walked along the beach into town for breakfast and walked back the same way. We spent the rest of the afternoon taking advantage of the beautiful weather to relax in and around the pool at our hotel, then capped off the day with another nice stroll along the beach and one more trip into town for dinner. This morning, we are packed up and ready to catch the shuttle van down to Quepos and the Manuel Antonio Park which we hope to enjoy more than we have our time in Jaco.