Friday, April 29, 2011

Virgin Islands National Park





Let the hiking begin. Last fall we decided that it would be fun to see as many national parks as we can. The Virgin Islands, being the furthest away, seemed, at the time, very unlikely to be checked off of our list, so in the morning we eagerly headed to the national park headquarters, got our passport book stamped, and picked up a map and junior ranger programs. After grabbing a quick bite for lunch, we followed the trail out of Cruz Bay, enjoying the lusher, more tropical, less deserty vegetation of St. John's Island, to the tops of Margaret and Caneel Hills for gorgeous views across the islands all the way to Puerto Rico.  We then worked our way downhill on a trail that took us through the Caneel Bay Resort and its beautifully manicured grounds dotted with old ruins of sugar mills blooming with flowers both inside and out. We knew Pika was not welcome here so we had stuffed her into my pack. The resort authorities immediately noticed her and came to make sure that the crusty, chihuahua-toting family was just passing through. We informed them that, indeed, we were heading to the trail that would take us to Honeymoon Beach. When we reached the beach, the boys all hopped into the water to swim and wash off the loads of sweat that we had accumulated on our hike. With illegal chihuahua in arm, I waded in the warm water and suffered from an inability to control my photo-taking-trigger finger, shooting way too many photos of all of my smiling, wet boys playing in beautiful, clear water. Satisfied with our play time at the beach, we drippily headed back to the trail that would take us back to Cruz Bay. The trail wound up the west side of Caneel Hill and was noticeably drier, with crazy cactus vines carpeting the ground as well anything else they could climb up along the edge of the trail. As we walked back into Cruz Bay we were almost dry and in need of a cool treat. After sampling smoothies from a couple of different smoothie shacks, the boys finished their junior ranger books and it was a mad dash to turn them in before closing time. Out of breath upon arrival, we caught the last ranger just as she was locking up and she kindly agreed to let us in so the boys could get their badges. Whew! After a long day of hike and play we settled down for dinner at a down-home, outdoor BBQ shack, where we all, especially chihuahua, who was noticeably heavier when we left, consumed too much protein and fat. On the way back to the hotel, we bought cold treats to enjoy on the lawn as we watched the sun set and, in disbelief, talked over our new, crazy, unbelievable adventures. We heart freedom.

Click here for photos.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Final day of sailing



Today is the last day on the sailboat and we all have different agendas. Jason wants to snorkel, Aaron and I, being the most landlubbery, want to hike, Isaac, being the most read-y, wants to read. So we all went in our separate directions. Aaron wants to make it to the top of the mountain so we set out on the same trail as the night before with the plan to continue past where we had stopped. Along the way we saw a tropical tree with yucca-like plants growing out of its branches, lizards, hummingbirds, and finally the big view. Meanwhile Jason, sneakily snorkeling so as not to run into his adoring jellyfish fans, saw a Southern Stingray. As for Isaac, I am not sure what happened in his book while we were gone, but I was delighted when we was captaining the dinghy when Aaron and I were picked up from the beach. He officially bears the title of Dinghy Captain now, as he can start and stop the engine, drive both forwards and backwards, steer the dinghy accurately, and dock it. Congratulations, we are proud of you. 

Time to head to Cruz Bay. After loading all of our backpacks into the dinghy, we headed to land where we checked back in with U.S. officials and parted ways with Captain Bob and Debbie. After grabbing a quick lunch in town, we caught a shuttle to the Westin Resort, the only place on the island that would allow Pika. The Westin was very nice, but also very different from what we normally opt for. It was very resorty, definitely where all the Americans were staying. It was a different experience than the rundown villages we were driving through in the BVI's, a little bit of a shock to system really. Oh well. Anyway, we spent the afternoon catching up on some rest and....showering. The Captain, not realizing that we were not his normal clientele, made the mistake of sending an email letting us know that we should relax, not worry about electric shavers or blowdryers (luckily we don't own any), or a fresh pair of clothes everyday. He didn't know who he was talking to (we can go for weeks in the desert without a shower) and I think that by the end of the trip they were secretly desperate for us to take a shower. Our attitudes were, hey, who needs a shower when you are swimming in the ocean everyday, even though I can't get my hands through my almost dreadlocked curls. I think they may have been grossed out and kept saying things like, "don't you want to soap up?" after we would climb out of the ocean. Nope, we're good. He'll think twice before he sends an email like that again. 

Click here for photos. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Too little time....



This morning we all (at least Aaron and I) awoke with visions of hiking dancing in our heads. Today we would get to hike for about fifteen minutes to reach the bubble pool, a spot where water pushes through a narrow passage, up over the rocks at the end, spilling over into a small pool, aerating it with bubbles. Along the way we saw loads of hole-dwelling-iridescent-one-huge-claw-wielding crabs crawling everywhere, mangrove trees, pelicans swooping down to catch fish, cactus, and blue paint on rocks warning us of "poisonous trees." We later found out that the fruit is poisonous, with Christopher Columbus calling it the death apple, and the sap is really irritating to the skin if it drips on you, which it might do if you stand under it during a rain. When we arrived at the pool, there were four people playing in it so we climbed around on the rocks up above to enjoy the view as the water rolled through splashing over into the pool. After the group cleared out, we had the place to ourselves and we took our turn in the pool, waiting at the mouth for big waves to splash over the top, filling the pool with bubbles. Jason even dipped Pika in for a terrifying chihuhahua swim. The boys played and laughed and played and laughed, riding on waves for a long time. Meanwhile, at the water's edge there were baby, black and white, tropical fish swimming around. After the boys had their fill we hiked up to the top of the cliffs overlooking the water and explored, stumbling upon the dragon's lair of doom, a narrow network of fissures in the rocks where air explodes out with what sounds like a firey hiss when the waves crash against the cliff. 

Back on the boat, we set sail for Water Lemon Bay, part of U.S. Virgin Islands National Park on St. John's Island. Jason and I did the majority of the sailing along the way, even completing solo jibes, where I would crank in the mainsail, then release the jib on one side and then crank it in on the other side. Very cool. The boys even got to help with the sails today. We are becoming quite a good team together.  At Water Lemon Jason simulated pulling up to a dock and after a few tries got it down, he was very motivated because he was anxious to hop into the water and snorkel in the National Park. We moored as close as we could to the snorkeling in hopes that Aaron would be comfy snorkeling here. I talked him into snorkeling with me hand-in-hand to the island. He did great especially since it took longer than anticipated to get there due to the current. I thought once we got to the island we could wade in and out to snorkel, but when we approached the island we swam past poisonous black sea urchins. I couldn't handle the thought of wading in and out and having to worry about Aaron stepping on a sea urchin, so we stayed on the island and beachcombed instead. Meanwhile Jason was trying to get Isaac to follow him onto the island because he kept getting stung by tiny, annoying jellyfish over and over again. Jellyfish heart Jason, who can blame them? I do too. 

At this point you may be thinking that we had plenty of activity for the day (or perhaps, maybe, this post is getting a little long), but we just couldn't help ourselves. We just had to go for a hike because there were cool, old ruins of sugar mills, on National Park land, up on the hillside, with big views at the top, and we knew we wouldn't have much time in the morning. So off we went, with Aaron running and bouncing with excitement and chihuahua trailing behind. The first set of ruins had an arch that gorgeously framed the water and islands below. Up top, we sat in the second set of ruins and watched the sun start to set over the panoramic view. Now, that, was a spectacular day. What we have learned about sailing is that we love to sail, but we don't love being stuck on the sailboat all of the time. We need to get off on land and enjoy exploring new places, some of which we couldn't get to any other way. We see the sailboat as a nautical camper van that allows us to explore new places in sailing form, even slower, if you can believe it, but more fun, instead of driving 

Alas, with a very long post, follows too many photos.

Feeling arfy



Captain Bob must have been suffering from insanity today. He wanted me at the helm to motor us out of this uber-shallow bay. Luckily, since we weren't under sail, I did not drive like a drunken sailor and steered us out without hitting bottom. Whew! In the safety of deeper waters, Jason and I attempted to set sail, but winds were quite tempermental today and with very light winds we slowly sailed at a broad reach towards Marina Kay to refill our water. While refilling water we were in the middle of a squall with winds gusting up to 27 knots. When we left, wind was almost non-existent and we had to motor to our next destination through four foot swells, which in the grand scheme of things are not very big, but to landlubbers like us who are not used to them, felt quite big, and I was feeling very green and arfy. Upon arrival at Little Jost, a quiet, secluded cove that is home to many sea turtles, the weather cleared up and so did my desire to empty my stomach.

Click here for photos.

Island Rains



Today we stayed anchored at Anegada, an island formed over old coral reefs instead of volcanic in origin like its neighbors, to play on shore for the day. After taking the dinghy in, we waited for a taxi under the shelter of a tree heavy with bright pink flowers as clouds moved and shifted overhead, intermittently dropping rain. It was quite a colorful scene between the pastel colors of the buildings around us, the thatched roofs, the shifting clouds, the white sand, the aquamarine water, the bright pink flowers, and the rusted barrels used for BBQ grills. At last our truck taxi arrived and off we bumped over the dirt road across the flat, scrubby island to Loblolly Beach. Arriving right at lunch time, we ordered lunch at the Big Bamboo restaurant and lazed around in hammocks, in a very islandy way, while we waited for the food. After lunch we set out for the beach where snorkeling is supposed to be spectacular. The beach, lined with benches under palm-thatched umbrellas, was gorgeous. The variations in the color of the water over reefs and sand was spectacular. The weather was a little cool (I know that sounds silly when compared to the weather at home) and windy so we decided to wait until the last hour before the taxi would pick us up to snorkel. Jason, Pika, and I sat in the sand and marveled at our surroundings while the boys set to work in the sand. Thunder in the distance and rain interrupted our beach activities and we took shelter under a palm-thatched umbrella waiting for it to pass. The rain paused and it looked like we may have some clearer skies heading our direction so we went for a walk to pass the time until they caught up with us. When we got back the sky was darker than ever so we decided it was now or never. We all hopped into the water and snorkeled around, leaving chihuahua on the bench on a fluffy towel. After about ten minutes in the water the wind picked up and it was starting to storm so we climbed out of the water and returned to the sad, wet chihuahua on the bench. At this point a torrential downpour started and I am pretty sure we became even wetter than we already were. We packed up and headed full tilt into the wind back towards the shelter of the restaurant with our fellow soaked beachcombers. As we all piled under the shelter of the open-air roof, there was much amusement as the dry patrons stared at the dripping, water-logged crowd that had just joined them. It didn't look like the weather was going to let up so we hopped into the back of the truck, me still in my bathing suit, wrapped in a soaked towel, for a shivery, bumpy ride back across the island. The rest of the afternoon was spent in the boat drying out and drinking tea.

Click here for photos.

Day of Drills



Today was a great training day. Leverick Bay is big and calm so we did man-overboard drills. I am going to make you suffer through the details so that it will help us remember for future reference. We threw poor Wilson, the ball with a tail, off the boat over and over again until we had it nailed. First yell man over board and someone points and never takes his eyes off of him. The helmsman immediately brings the boat to a beams reach, just momentarily, so we don't accidentally jibe, and then we tack completely around, putting Wilson on the windward side so that we don't get blown into him, turning into the wind so that the boat is in irons and stops just as we reach him so we can scoop him up. After that we beat into the wind to sail between a dock and the bowsprit of a big, beautiful, expensive schooner. That was pretty scary, but we managed. Then we had to run with the wind to our backs, the hardest point of sail as it can be slow going and you can accidentally jibe, which all of the books say you don't want to do. While sailing down wind, we practiced controlled jibing until we got out of the bay. We set a course for our next destination, Anegada. Along the way, Bob let me handle the sails during tacks single-handedly, declaring that most women don't want to touch the lines. Now I understand why he wanted me to be helmsman, he assumed I didn't want to touch the lines. It is quite the opposite, I love hoisting, cranking, and working the lines. I love looking at the sails and trying to figure out if they are in the correct position for the point of sail we are on. He had me pegged completely wrong, but now I am in a happy place. I am even getting a little better at the helm though I would much rather Jason be there since he is really good at controlling the boat. After a satisfying day of sailing, we anchored in the very shallow (around 9 feet, our keel reaches down 7 feet, yikes!) waters of the low-lying island of Anegada. After the anchor was set, Jason headed below decks and finished his third, and final, written test. I am proud to announce that he is now officially certified to bare boat charter. Woohoo! At this point, Captain Bob even let us take the dinghy alone to land to relieve the chihuahua and go for a sunset walk.

Click here for photos.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Is this paradise?



Today we sailed to Spanish Town on Virgin Gorda Island. Along the way, we got to participate more with the sailing and I finally got to help work sails as we completed tacks. When we got to Spanish Town a taxi driver with his canopied truck was waiting to take us to a British National Park called the Baths, a jumble of granite boulders met by the gorgeous blue-green water of the ocean, forming colorful, shallow pools and coves for endless hours of playing. We hopped into the back of his truck and off we went. The climate on land is very different than we have ever seen, really dry, with a mixture of both tropical and desert plants. When we got to the Baths we hiked through a dry forest with cactus as big as trees amongst huge granite boulders down to the water's edge. We wandered through magical places, contourting our bodies to slip into caves and slots between boulders, with light filtering down to beautiful little pools where aquamarine water quietly lapped at the white, sandy edges of the shore, and down to spectacular Devil's Bay. If this isn't paradise, I don't know what is. I had a really hard time believing that we were really here seeing all of these amazing things. The little bay was knock-your-socks off gorgeous and the water is 80 degrees. All of us, including Aaron put on snorkeling masks and waded in. Jason and Isaac immediately took off to explore through the nooks and crannies of the boulders finding a narrow pathway where the bottom dropped out from underneath them to a depth of about fifty feet, feeling as if they had swam off of a cliff, very vertigo-y. Meanwhile, Aaron and I took our time and inched in a little at a time, coming back to shore, checking Aaron's mask, swimming out a little further each time and loving seeing all of the fish and coral that lived among the boulders. This cove was perfect for Aaron snorkeling. Wading into the water was an awesome change from dropping into the abyss off of the boat. Aaron now, officially, loves snorkeling, off of land. After about two hours of snorkeling, we were all ready to get out and I, the cold wimp, was freezing. We dried off and set off to explore the highest boulders. At this point we basically had the bay to ourselves as we sat up on a high boulder enjoying the spectacular view while we dried and soaked up the sun. We all could have spent days playing here but it was time to catch our taxi for a ride up over the top of Virgin Gorda for Aaron's high-up, panoramic view requirements, overlooking the ocean and island chains, dropping down the other side to Leverick Bay where Captain Bob and Debbie had motored around to meet us. They had big plans for us tonight starting with Pirate Bean's Happy Aaaar show with plenty of silly pirate songs, where we kept the pirate beat with homemade pirate shakers, and lots of getting to yell aaaaar! The boys loved it. After the show, we enjoyed a nice, open-air dinner at Leverick Bay Restaurant watching the sun set. When we returned to the boat, Jason hunkered down to pass his second written test. Two tests down, one to go before he is certified to do a bare boat charter.

Click here for photos.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

ooooh, barracuda



Night number two brought a much more restful night's sleep. After another yummy breakfast, (a side note here, Debbie cooked and cooked and cooked for us, three meals a day, way beyond the call of duty or what I had expected, thank you, we are not an easy bunch to cook for and I will endlessly feel guilty and grateful) hopped into the dinghy and zoomed around an outcropping of rocks to snorkel at the Caves. As one might imagine, Aaron was a little apprehensive about going into the water again, but he was brave and gave it a try. After getting into the water, he came to the conclusion that he would stay in the dinghy, so we hoisted a drippy Aaron back in. Jason and I were going to take turns but Captain Bob generously offered to stay with him. As I readied myself to get into the water Jason and Isaac were noticeably excited about something when they raised their heads and exclaimed there was a huge barracuda swimming away. I hopped in as quick as I could, which perhaps seems a little counterintuitive, to try to catch a glimpse but he was gone before I could see him. The three of us explored the mouths of the caves together where there were loads of schools of colorful fish hanging out. As we were heading back to the dinghy over the coral reefs, schools of fish followed us, it was really fun to look back and see all of them trailing behind us. When we got to the dinghy, Jason and Isaac got out first while I continued to gaze around. Off of the starboard side of the dinghy, about twenty feet from me were two...very. Large. Barracudas. They looked about six feet long and they were just hanging out, with their really big, really sharp teeth, not bothering anybody. At this point I declared that I was ready to get back into the dinghy. Jason didn't quite believe me so he donned his mask and put his face in the water, confirming that those were in fact, very large barracudas and maybe I should get back into the dinghy now. After safely arriving back at the sailboat with no bites missing from us, we set sail for Norman Island. Our lessons were progressing smoothly, Jason had even completed his first written test with flying colors and in record time the night before. We took turns at the helm, but Captain Bob kept telling me that I had to be the one at the helm because Jason was the brute force behind the sails, which I took a little offense to especially because I really liked working the sails on Martha and hadn't gotten to touch them on this boat yet. I should also confess something....I am a really terrible helmsman. I have a really hard time keeping the boat at the correct point of sail, especially when it's choppy. I drive a boat the same way that I drive in Mario Kart, which is not good. I tend to get a little panicky and oversteer when the boat doesn't react as quickly as a car, but with practice I am sure that I will get better. Upon arrival to Norman Island, we discovered there were no mooring balls left so we would have to anchor for the night. So begins the anchoring lesson. The goal is to anchor at a depth of about 25 feet, into the wind with enough room so that you don't hit anything if you swing around during the night. The captain chose a spot around a rocky outcropping from the crowded mooring area. It seemed like a good choice with the wind coming from the land and the right depth, so we set anchor. Within minutes of setting anchor the wind direction changed and we began to drift in all the wrong directions. Worried that we may hit something if we stayed, we pulled up anchor and headed to the next cove where the wind was steadily coming from land and there was more room to swing. This time was a success and we had a gorgeous blue-green, boulder-lined cove all to ourselves. Now, this is much more like what I had imagined the Virgin Islands to be like. We had been on the boat for two days and some of us (me, who has some being-stuck-on-a-boat-all-the-time issues, Aaron who has I-need-to-hike issues, and Pika, who was having not-adjusting-to-nautical-life-as-quickly-as-we-had-hoped-especially-in-the-pottying-department issues), were anxious to set foot on land again so we asked the captain if maybe he could drop us off on shore so that we could explore. On shore we got lots of fun playing in. With our wobbly sea legs, we explored through the bushes, up and over boulders, as Aaron, of course, pushed to go as high as we could. Isaac found a coconut which he affectionately carried around in hopes of keeping it, we were sad to inform him that customs would make sure that wouldn't happen. We found parts of conch shells, watched the chihuahua run as fast as her little chihuahua legs would take her with much chihuahua delight, boulder-hopped across fossilized brain coral rocks and watched the sun set behind the sailboat. It was really nice to get to explore the land in addition to the sea. Captain Bob picked us up and we went back to the boat to enjoy another delicious meal. It was a really nice day.

Click here for photos.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Day 1 in the USVI



Saturday evening we settled into our bunks and started to get to know Captain Bob and Debbie who have been sailing together for 26 years and spent 2007-2009 sailing from Seattle to Florida, through the Panama Canal with many harrowing adventures along the way. After spending an almost sleepless night at dock in raucous Red Hook Bay where vacationers partied and screamed until well past 3am, instruction began and we set sail onto gorgeous waters, so brilliant with its variations of blue and green, for Soper's Hole to check into the British Virgin Islands. Keeping in mind that we are flying on the lowdown with our contraband chihuahua into British territory, we brought Pika, not the happiest sailor to say the least, below deck. As Jason and Captain Bob readied the dinghy to go show the authorities our passports, Pika let out a bark, in the only place on the trip that she shouldn't, because she thought the clanking noises from above were a dog's collar. Luckily no one heard her and we slipped into British territory without incident.

Our next destination was the Indians, an outcropping of rocks where we snorkeled for the first time. We hooked up to a mooring ball, donned our snorkeling gear, and hopped in the warm, clear, blue-green water, feeling like we had dropped off a cliff when we discovered we could see bottom in the distance below. Suspended on the surface, we were amazed at how much life was swarming below us without our knowledge. All we had to do was dip our heads into the water to enter a completely new world. As I held onto Aaron, we swam towards a coral reef gazing at all of the tropical fish below in wonder, blue tangs, yellow tangs, yellow and black stripey fish, parrot fish, rainbow fish, it was truly amazing. When we reached the reef Aaron was desperate to stand up which we couldn't do because we were floating over a living reef. His mask kept filling with water and his diving vest had lost a tiny bit of air so he was understably beginning to freak, especially since this was his first time snorkeling. We kept adjusting his mask to try to keep the water out and in between shrieks to go back to the boat, he would look down and say "ooooh a giant brain coral," or "ooooooh fan coral." While we were fighting with his mask we followed Jason over a shallow ridge where our legs looked as if they were only inches above poisonous black spiny sea urchins. Yikes. It was really wild to be immersed in a coral reef, something we had only caught glimpses of at aquariums or on television. When we realized the mask situation wasn't going to change, Aaron and I headed the 100 yards back to the boat. When we were back on the boat, Aaron was so excited, exclaiming, "the fish were really cool, wow, I can't believe I was snorkeling, but I kinda thought I might drown." A couple of minutes later Isaac and Jason swam back to the boat with stories of seeing cuttlefish, a dog fish and Isaac thinks he saw an octopus. Though we had some drama, I'd say we had a pretty successful first snorkeling trip.

Setting sail, we headed to the Bight to moor for the night. The Bight is a sailboat infested cove where a pirate-ship-turned bar is permanently moored. From the beach we could hear live reggae music emanating from another ramshackle bar. The Bight was not exactly what I had pictured in my brain when I thought of sailing in the Virgin Islands, but it was definately better than the previous night. I am getting the impression that people come here to drink. A lot. After Debbie cooked an amazing meal, the boys settled into their bunks and Jason and I went to the front deck to lay down and gaze at the stars while listening to live reggae music in the warm, humid night air, the sound of waves lapping against the hull.

Author's apologies to those who have already seen these photos that I posted prematurely. Click here for photos.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Crazy Taxi



After spending a few days playing on the beach in Fort Lauderdale, we boarded the plane to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands where we wouldn't have to deal with crazy British chihuahua importation rules that come with flying into the British Islands. At the airport everyone is treated to a warm Caribbean welcome with steel drum music filling the air from a dreadlocked musician and a stand where free rum is passed out to anxious vacationers who are ready to start their drunken stupor. Though we enjoyed the music, we declined the rum. Outside the airport we were shown to the giant passenger van that would be ours alone as it would be too dangerous for other passengers to ride with us due to the ferocious chihuahua. As is custom in our family, we all reached for our seat belts only to discover that there was nothing to clip them to. We asked the cab driver if there were any seat belts. He replied that "seat belts are not necessary," he pauses here as he rethinks his wording, "seat belts are not," paaause, "required here," as he clips his own seatbelt. Oink! Hold on kids! As we make our way out of the airport Isaac astutely points out that he is driving on the wrong side of the road making it more difficult for us backseat drivers to accurately predict if he is going to hit the oncoming traffic or not. After much discussion, I think that we have come to the conclusion that the roads here are nearly as crazy as Portugal, perhaps, at times, even more crazy when they rear up to insanely steep grades. It's almost like they took a hiking trail and "paved" it over. We wound over the top of the island, through the tightest switch backs I have ever seen, past rundown, but colorfully painted houses and bars, past wild chickens and goats everywhere, surrounded by tropical vegetation and flowers, completing our journey successfully at our destination, Red Hook Bay, where Fidelity, her captain, and first mate were waiting for us. Whew!

Dreams of Open Ocean



Life is crazy. Jason and I have been harboring a secret dream of living on a wooden sailboat. Kind of a funny thing for two people who live in a land-locked state and have spent almost no time sailing. It's been simmering in the back of our brains ever since we attended a boat show in Seattle while I was pregnant with Isaac. We both fell in love with the beauty of old wooden sailboats and the idea of the the simplicity of the life one might lead in tiny wooden quarters upon the ocean. Three summers ago in Port Townsend, we were walking through the docks checking out sailboats when we set our eyes upon Martha, a gorgeous 85 foot 1907 racing schooner. As we oohed and aahhed over the boat, we complimented the captain and we began talking. During th course of the conversation he invited us onboard to give us a tour where we discovered that he and his family give lessons on the boat. The following summer we booked a week-long sailing lesson on Martha. Needless to say, we had an amazing time sailing through the San Juan Islands while they showed us the ropes. Though we learned a lot, we did not feel we were ready to handle a sailboat alone yet. When we were in Portugal, the sailboat desire bubbled up again and we dreamed up a long-term plan of maybe going to the U.S. Virgin Islands to learn how to sail and get bare boat certified, we even daydreamed that maybe we could do it this spring but it seemed like a very unrealistic time frame. A week and two days ago Jason's boss asked if we would please go to Florida. Given Florida's much closer proximity to the Virgin Islands in comparison to home, we jumped at the opportunity. Over the course of the next day we lined up an eight day long sailing lesson in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, went for a hike, attended a pow-wow, and booked tickets to leave for Florida and USVI in four days. So here we are sitting in a sailboat in the middle of the Caribbean learning the ropes and on our way to being certified so we can start sailing on our own and decide if a sailor's life is for us.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Kindness



We met many people along the way and it has been our overwhelming experience that the Portuguese people are very kind and generous, you hold a very special place in our hearts. Thank you to all that helped us along the way. Thank you to Eduardo, who may or may not have seen me desperately cleaning Pika potty off of his floor, for carrying my suitcase up the 83 stairs to our apartment and for turning a blind eye if you were in fact a witness to the frantic cleaning. Thank you to the tiny little old lady with cartoon poultry on your chest for brightening our day with your lengthy Portuguese ramblings. Thank you to Fred for teaching us how to say towel (toalha) in Portuguese and giving us insight into how hard it is for you to say towel in English. Thank you to the French restaurant owner who translated our menu with exaggerated flourish and for taking such good care of us. Thank you to the nice lady at Verde for fresh greens in a land where it is hard to find crunchy veggies at restaurants and also thank you for all of the language lessons. Thank you to Poix Cafe for delicious café com leites and a comfy space to eat. Thank you bread guy for badgering me with your questions on why we are here and all of the delicious bread. Thank you to the fish lady for translating all of the fishes into English for me and for taking the time to stop in the middle (literally) of the street to show me the rug that you have been working on for ten years, and for the invitation to teach me how. Thank you to the chicken guy for your friendly smile and your little bit of broken English, and for teaching me how to say "two chicken legs" (dous perne frango). Thank you to the little old lady that helped the chicken guy with his lessons by grabbing my leg and saying "perne!" very loudly as you giggled away. Thank you to Dagmar who rented us the most amazing house equipped with everything we could possibly need including board games and for dropping off a cast-iron dutch oven when you learned that I was afraid of nonstick cookware even though most of your cookware was stainless steel. Thank you to the staff at Tasco for entertaining us with your infectiously, enthusiastic incompetence and disorganization. Thank you to the artist whose name I cannot remember for giving the boys a watercolor painting lesson, your brushstrokes were masterful. Thank you to the old lady in the tiny village in the middle of nowhere who walked by us and gave us the three best "Bom diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiia's" (good day) we have ever heard. Thank you to our waiter who taught us that football is the reason why there are no more wars in Europe, because the players are your warriors. Thank you to Noni who drove us to and from Campo Real and to the airport safely and sanely, and for teaching us the importance of family tradition when deciding which football team to support. Thank you to the grill guy for reverting to animal noises and movements including the realistic depiction of cow horns with your fingers to make sure that Jason understood what it was that he was ordering. Thank you to the tooth fairy for finding both Aaron and Isaac in Portugal. Thank you to the painter lady in the tile store for surprising me with an extra tile as a way to thank me for running down to get cash to pay you with and the cute way that you quietly say "yes." Thank you to Sandra and Paolo, our amazing new friends from Portugal, for your warm kindness, showering our children with your affection, teaching us how to greet friends properly in Portugal, sharing with us the most amazing kiwis and oranges we have ever tasted straight from your parents' harvest, and the wonderful, delicious and insightful lunch in your home. Thank you to the guard at the train station who let us out of the station without fining us when we botched our tickets and then beelining straight back to the café to finish your espresso in such a typically Portuguese way. We are sorry we interrupted one of your coffee breaks. Thank you to everyone for putting up with me mangling your beautiful language. Thank you to Mary, born-to-Portuguese-parents-in-Boston-but-moved-to-Portugal-ten-years-ago-owner of Saudade, our favorite café in Sintra, for inviting us in, even when you were closed, for tea and wonderful conversation, and for the care packages of cookies, hot chocolate and tea. I think Mary summarized what we love about Portugal best. She said she often asks herself why she lives in Portugal, she says "it can be hard. Really hard. There are no sidewalks, the drivers are crazy. Yes, it's beautiful here, but it's beautiful in the states too. What it comes down to is the people, the people are why I stay here." Thank you to everyone for your warm hospitality. We will miss you all while we are away.