Beach Art

IMG_4890Bob is a guy who has to have a project. If he doesn’t have something to do, it is miserable for him and for me. So when the weather report showed a couple of cold and rainy weeks coming, I panicked. What is Bob going to do for two weeks? He is not an indoor-type of guy and he does not often sit down and read a book (where he and I differ, I devour books!)  The thought of two weeks holed up in the fifth wheel with Bob and his TV shows blaring was not making me happy. I worried about it as we went for our early morning walk. We were discussing ideas of things for him to do when we tripped over a piece of driftwood. Bob picked it up and looked at it. We both at the same time said: “Wow, that looks like a Dorado fish!” We laughed and he put it under his arm as we walked along, continuing to talk about what project Bob could do in cold weather. Bob looked at me and said that he thought one thing he could do is paint the driftwood. “Paint the driftwood?” I asked. “Yeah,” he said, “I think it would be neat.” So the next trip to Panama City we bought some acrylic paints and paint brushes. He came home and found some pictures of Dorado fish and went to work. It came out fabulous! So that’s how it started. Now whenever we walk we are looking for driftwood that looks like something other than a piece of wood. It has also led to “field trips” to search for wood. On cold and rainy days Bob gets out all his paints and he is happy for hours. And I’m happy! Here’s some of his driftwood art:

 “Nessie” the Loch Ness Monster:

Dragon

Wiley Rabbit:

Rabbit

Dog (or something, we’re not exactly sure!):

Dog

EL EEL:

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Mr. Fish:

Fish

Mr. Frog on a log (this is really tiny and his first “commissioned piece. Our friend found it on the beach and asked him to paint it for her!):

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Silly Fish:

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And my favorite: Alligator With An Attitude. We found this piece of driftwood on St. Vincent’s Island:

Alligator driftwood

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Indian Pass, Florida

Indian Pass CampgroundIndian Pass Campground near Port St. Joe, Florida, is in an area also known as The Forgotten Coast. The Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce registered the name as a trademark in the early 1990’s. The reason is because compared to the rest of Florida, the coastline that stretches from Mexico Beach on the Gulf of Mexico to St. Marks on Aplachee Bay is relatively quiet and undeveloped. In between the boundaries lie Simmons Bayou, Cape San Blas, Indian Pass, and the quaint city of Apalachicola which lies on the banks of the Apalachicola River.  Continuing east is Eastpoint, St.George Island, Carrabelle, Lanark Village, St.James Island, St.Teresa Island and Alligator Point. St. Marks Lighthouse and nature preserve is the easternmost place on the Forgotten Coast. All these little towns and beaches are uncrowded and picturesque. The nearest major city is Tallahassee, about 90 miles northeast of Apalachicola, and Panama City (home of Tyndall Air Force Base) is about 60 miles to the northwest.

IMG_4119The first thing I was told when we found Indian Pass Campground five years ago was: “The only rules here are: there are NO rules!” That sounded pretty good to us so we stayed for a couple of months. And then we came back, year after year. And so have most of the others who are here. It is one of the few campgrounds where one can have a campfire on the beach, run their dogs without a leash (most Florida beaches don’t even allow dogs!), drive their golf cart or vehicle (with a permit) on the beach; or for that matter, camp right on the beach. I watch pelicans dive, dolphin play, egrets, herons, loons, ibis, while I sip my coffee in the morning or sip my wine in the evening. Every once in a while a Bald Eagle flies overhead. At night, the Night Heron leave their perches around the campground and head out for whatever they do in the dark. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Bob and BoatBob keeps busy fishing from the shore, checking his crab traps or heading out in his little “port-a-bote” to his favorite fishing hole. The Raw Bar is just up the road, so when we get a hankering for oysters, we head there. Or, we buy a bushel of oysters at 13-Mile directly from the oyster men and bring them back to the campsite and shuck them there. The “Shrimp Lady” comes through once a week with fresh shrimp that we buy from the back of her truck. Occasionally we head out to town (Port St. Joe or Apalachicola) for fresh veggies and to stock up on liquor; and every couple of weeks we head to Panama City to get our Walmart fix,  but other than that, we have no need to leave!

View from our campsite.

View from our campsite.

Changes in Latitudes

It has been a few years since we first set sail on La Roja and a lot has changed since then; but my suspicion is that if one’s sense of adventure and determination to overcome whatever obstacles get in the way are in tack, much of what I wrote in an article published in the popular sailing rag, “Lattitude 38, Changes in Latitudes” in October of 2000 will still ring true. The following is an excerpt from my E-Book: Dolphins Forever On Her Bow:

Article published in popular sailing rag, “Latitude 38, Changes in Latitudes” October 2000:

La Roja – Roberts 44

Bob and Marjorie Lambert

“We left our homeport of Anacapa Island Marina in Channel Islands Harbor in April of last year and have slowly been making our way south. We arrived in beautiful Costa Rica in June and plan on hanging out here through the end of hurricane season. As with most every other cruiser we’ve been privileged to meet, getting a copy of ‘Latitude 38’ ‘out here‘ is a real treat. And it’s even more fun to read now because so many of the contributors are folks we’ve met along the way. Anyway, we thought it was time for La Roja to add her tales.

Sea of Cortez

Sea of Cortez

Our agenda for the last 18 months has been to take it real slow and enjoy each place as we go. This has proven to be a magical formula. We spent last summer in the Sea of Cortez. The abundance of sea life along with the beauty and tranquility of the area was awesome. Almost every night we fed ourselves as though dining at a smorgasbord of the sea. We often had choices: triggerfish, grouper, mullet, yellowtail, Dorado, sierra, as well as many varieties of rock scallops. We often would discuss what we wanted for dinner before heading out so we could be selective in our kill, and we almost never came back empty handed.

We sailed – yes, sailed, which is what we try to do at every opportunity – as far north as Refugio above Bahia de Los Angeles. All along the way we enjoyed the friendliness and hospitality of the people. In Aqua Verde, we were invited to a ‘Quinceañera,’ which is a party for someone turning fifteen years old. In Santa Rosalia, we sat in the street watching the De La Hoya/Montoyo title fight on a television propped up on a fence. In Bahia de Los Angeles, we attended a pig roast. At Lemona we swam with whale sharks. At Refugio, we delighted in the sights and sounds of huge numbers of sea lions. And throughout the Sea we often sat mesmerized by the beautiful sunsets as manta rays and pelicans played in the background. We reluctantly took our leave in September, promising the locals – and ourselves – that we would return the next summer.

La Roja at anchor

La Roja at anchor

Once we made the crossing to the mainland, however, we found more magic! We spent the next seven months enjoying the beauty of mainland Mexico and the warmth of her people. We stopped at isolated anchorages where we were the only boat, and we also stayed at luxurious marinas where we were totally pampered. When we travelled by bus, we often found ourselves sitting next to chickens or buckets of fish while being serenaded by a guitar-playing singer. We attended many a street party, and marveled at the colorful parades with many simple but well-decorated floats depicting the Christ child – while the masked demons danced alongside. We were invited to local houses for meals, and marveled at the generosity of our hosts. We dined at wonderful restaurants, but also had food from street vendors that was equally delicious. At one cockfight we were the only gringos, and learned how to bet on the different games. We rode a Panga (a “Panga” is a type of modest-sized, open, outboard-powered, fishing boat) through the jungle to a crocodile farm; took local children and their parents sailing; rode in the back of pickup trucks; and laughed and danced at many a fiesta until the early hours of the morning. We were awakened by the music of bands playing on the beaches in small towns, practicing for yet another fiesta. We sat atop fences enjoying rodeos and cheered at many a local soccer game. When we finally left Mexico – after making our way through the dreaded Gulf of Tehuantepec (an area prone to heavy weather; hurricanes often form there) unscathed – we were filled with wonderful memories of incredible people and places – and again vowed to return soon.

When we lowered the Mexican flag and raised the Guatemalan flag, it was almost a year to the day that we had left the United States. Some of the boats leaving Mexican waters elected to head straight for Costa Rica and bypass the “forgotten middle.” In retrospect, we’re so glad that we decided to continue trekking slowly and thus stop at Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. They are not to be missed. In Guatemala, we took the bus from Bahia Naval to Guatemala City, which while very busy, has a number of historical buildings and museums. Our next stop was Antigua, which was like stepping back in time. We stayed there for three days and will visit again from the Caribbean side.

We add our voices to the cruiser chorus praising the loveliness of Barillas Marina in El Salvador, and the generosity of its owner, Juan Wright. There is only one word to describe our experience there: “Wow!” From even before we arrived, we were treated with love and respect. Somehow word had reached them that that we were experiencing engine trouble, so Ameritas, one of Juan Wright’s employees who speaks fluent English, worked on her day off just to be able to assist us! She did not relax until we were safely tied to one of their moorings. When we rode the dinghy over to meet her, she tearfully welcomed us. I know this will sound overly dramatic, but I feel that Ameritas exemplifies what all of humanity should strive for: unconditional love. She treats each and every cruiser that comes through with the same level of love, concern and graciousness. And she is just one of Juan Wright’s many employees who share that attitude.

Juan Wright's beautiful crater-lake home in El Salvador

Juan Wright’s beautiful crater-lake home in El Salvador

Our stay at Barillas Marina lasted a month. We were flown back and forth, along with Jeff and Ann from High Drama, to the capital of San Salvador in Juan Wright’s personal plane; stayed at his condo and were treated to an incredible dinner with five waiters anxiously waiting to fill every cup and plate; and were assigned a personal driver to chauffeur us around town. The driver, Hector, then took us to Juan’s beautiful crater-lake home high in the mountains, where we spent a week. We felt like royalty but protested to Hector that we couldn’t continue to accept all Juan’s generosity. “Do you want me to lose my job?” he responded.  So we sat back and enjoyed ourselves, as to do anything else would have been insulting. We later rode in a caravan through the jungle to watch a man call monkeys out of the trees; we attended a native’s 100th birthday party and were honored to be one of the first Americans the townspeople had ever seen. We also rode in a high speed Panga to a beautiful white sand island, where we basked in the sun and we were also thrilled to meet the President of El Salvador!

When we were finally able to pull ourselves away, we decided to bypass Nicaragua and head straight for Costa Rica. As we set out under perfect sailing conditions, we jokingly asked each other: ‘Wonder what the traffic is like on the 405 today?‘ Within hours the sailing conditions took a turn for the worse, as we had strong wind and current on the nose with occasional squalls. At times we were down to two knots and less. Two days of battling these conditions wore us out, so we consulted our charts and decided to pull into the “No Name” (that is the name assigned to it on the chart) anchorage in Nicaragua. We hadn’t heard great things about the anchorage, but figured it would at least give us a break. As luck would have it, adverse winds and current were so strong it took us nine hours of tacking to make the final 20 miles! By that time we both agreed that the 405 would have been preferable that day. We finally made it into “No Name” – and were delighted to find a calm and pristine anchorage. We sat on deck that night watching the thunder and lightning in the distance, sipping our boat drinks and repeating over and over again: “Aren’t we lucky not to be out there!” We ended up staying at “No Name” anchorage for three days. There were a few locals fishing, and they were very pleasant. Two teenage boys showed us how to hunt octopus, then gave us one; along with detailed instructions on how to prepare it for dinner.

San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua

San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua

After heading back out, we decided to stop at San Juan del Sur, the last anchorage in Nicaragua. It was a 20-mile sail to get there, and we had one of our most exhilarating sails to date! With 20-knot winds forward of the port beam and flat seas, we occasionally hit 8.5 knots. Along the way we played tag with the Passage 52 “High Drama,” (another cruising boat) and marveled at the beautiful coastline. We dropped anchor in San Juan del Sur in less than three hours.

Despite rumors to the contrary, the Port Captain turned out to be most helpful. He told us that if we stayed right in town, he would sign our Zarpes (A Zarpe is what the Spanish-speaking countries call an outbound clearance document, obtained from customs/immigration officials when you depart from a country or in some cases, from any port within a country) from El Salvador as a stopover, and not make us go through the entire check-in process. While the town of San Juan del Sur was charming with colonial architecture and very clean; the water was very rough out on the bay and lots of boats were on questionable moorings. In fact, we watched one sink. So we left after two nights. But we promised that we’d return – by land- as it’s easily accessible from Costa Rica.

We left Nicaragua on May 31, and while having a beautiful wing-on-wing sail, entered Costa Rica. What a jewel! We stayed in Bahia Elena for a week, enjoying the sounds of monkeys and parrots, and swimming in the beautiful water. Some fishermen came up to the boat and gave us eight lobster tails. When we asked them what they wanted in return, they said a jug of water. When we threw in some baseball caps, their smiles of delight lit up the anchorage – and our hearts. We were hooked!

Costa CangregjoWe’re now in Playa Panama, Bahia Culebra, anchored off of Hiram and China’s (Her family nicknamed her China because she looks Chinese. She does not know what her given name is!) “Costa Cangrejo” restaurant. Hiram and China operate a poor man’s version of Juan Wright’s Barillas Marina in El Salvador. Not only do they offer wonderful hospitality and fantastic food, but they also arrange different activities, such as horseback riding, trips to the river with catered food, canopy rides and so forth. They also make diesel and gas runs, and have water, showers and laundry facilities. The anchorage is so calm and protected that locals bring their boats here for shelter during “Papagayos.” (The Papagayo wind is a north to northeasterly extremely strong wind and can last up to several days.)  Each morning we’ve been entertained by dolphins, and dorado literally swim around our boats. We haven’t figured out how to catch them yet, but we will! It rains about 40 inches a year here, which is about a fifth as much as it does further south. China gives the cruisers Spanish lessons on Friday mornings for the price of “desayuno” (breakfast) and salsa lessons at night. They also have cable TV, so we get our news fix. There just doesn’t seem to be any reason to hurry along!

As they say in Costa Rica: Pura Vida! (Pure life.) Thank you for letting us share La Roja’s story.”

Bob on deck

Hot Springs, Arkansas

Hot Springs

Hot Springs

Arkansas? Where? What’s Arkansas? That’s what my friends from California ask. Even the Weather Channel tends to ignore Arkansas. All the states surrounding Arkansas have their names identified on the weather map; but Arkansas’ name is sadly missing. And then I am noticing that the travel blogs either miss Arkansas altogether or they make a brief stop in Little Rock (maybe because the Weather Channel notes it on their map?) I feel a calling! I have to educate everyone that will listen about this beautiful state; Hot Springs in particular.

When we first moved here, four years ago, I was told that Arkansas is the only state that has borders with five other states: Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, and Louisiana. I was told that Arkansas (being in the middle of course) was left undeveloped and natural (the state  logo is: The Natural State) so that the bordering states would have a place to come to for hunting, fishing, golfing, boating, and relaxing, which is why there is so little industry here. Whether that is true or not, I cannot tell you; but I do know that there are very few places in the United States where one can drive for hours and see only a handful of cars. You can get anywhere in the state without having to get on a major highway.

Lake Catherine

Lake Catherine

There are many beautiful and interesting places in Arkansas, one really can’t go wrong almost anywhere you visit. The beauty of Hot Springs is that there are so many wonderful state and federal campgrounds within a few miles of downtown: Gulpa Gorge Campground, Lake Catherine, Lake Ouachita (my favorite), Lake DeGray State Park, and Brady Mountain (Army Coors of Engineers). I am not big on private campgrounds, mainly because of the expense, but if you are interested in rock hunting, Coleman Crystal Ron’s Mine has a campground charging $12/night, or $300 a month. You can walk to the mine to hunt for crystals from your campsite!

Thermal waters

Thermal waters

Hot Springs itself is actually a national park. (Something not told to the tourist but important to know is that in the downtown area, one side of the street [the side with all the bath houses] is National Park, and the opposing side is city. The reason this is important to know is that if you are going to get a speeding ticket, make sure you are on the city side, as the National Park side’s fines are double.) A colloquial name for Hot Springs is “The Spa City.” Hot Springs gets its name from the naturally thermal spring waters found there. There are wonderful walking trails that take you up above the town by the thermal waters.

Bath House Row

Bath House Row

A must is to spend a day at one of the bath houses. Before doing so, take the tour at The National Park Bath House. They do a wonderful  as well as entertaining job of educating you on the history of the bath houses. My favorite spa is Quapaw Bath House, mainly because it is one of only two that use the actual waters from the springs. You can pop in just to sit in the shared thermal pool for only $18. The water has been Carbon-dated at 4,000 years old and is high in silica, calcium, magnesium, free carbon dioxide, bicarbonate and sulfate. It has been used therapeutically for thousands of years. Of course there are private baths and a whole range of spa packages.

Garvan Woodland Gardens

Garvan Woodland Gardens

Garvan Woodland Gardens is just one of the must see’s. It is one of the most spectacularly beautiful places in the Natural State. The botanical garden is on a 210 acre peninsula  and is the University of Arkansas. It doesn’t matter what time of the year one visits, it is spectacular as well as magical. Christmas time is especially sensational.

The downtown area has the Gangster Museum, a Wax Museum, the historical Arlington Hotel where Al Capone stayed, restaurants and shops. Our favorite spot is the Ohio Club, which is reported to be the hangout of Al Capone. It is just a fun, happening place!

As far as Hot Springs Village, CBS News aired an interview with the vice president from RealtyTrac regarding a recent study on: “The Top Cities for Boomers to Lead the Good Life.” Hot Springs Village was rated the number 3 place to retire in the United States. 

The criteria used was:

  1.  Places that have a high percentage of retirees already and that have established themselves as retirement hot spots.
  2.  Not only must they be good places to live, but must have markets with price appreciation and also a good rental investment, so that those who are not ready to retire now can buy a house, rent it out and make money in the interim.
Hot Springs Village

Hot Springs Village

And, Chicago’s: Golf Chicago TV had a segment on Hot Springs Village. The introduction was to stay tuned to hear about a little-known golf mecca in Arkansas (and the word Arkansas was said with a distinct “oh my gosh, Arkansas?” tone). They touted the nine golf courses, 13 lakes, and beautiful walking trails as a must see. (Have to watch the intro, then scroll forward to 17:48 to see the segment on the Village.)

 Hopefully I have whetted your interest in visiting Hot Springs. It really is a great spot to visit. (I don’t know why the Weather Channel doesn’t put it on their map???)